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Behind the mask

Chapter Text

It was a long day – a damn long day.

Tsunade achieved her goal, but the Elders had not made it easy. Damn that Hatake brat, he certainly had an annoying condition for becoming Hokage. She took a sip of sake and silently admitted to herself that she would have acted no different. Really, the Elders were the annoying part here.

In a way she understood that it was a little difficult to appoint a Hokage who permanently hid half his face. To be honest, it would have been strange for Hatake to take that mask off after wearing it for so long. If she remembered Jiraya’s stories correctly the kid had been two when he first got it. She still didn’t know why, the ex-ANBU was good at evading that particular topic. Being a shinobi, she had her own theories and one particularly interesting one. It was unlikely, but she wouldn’t be surprised if Kakashi and by that logic even Sakumo would hide something like that. Especially during the Great War. Coincidentally, it was also the only time in which a secret like that could even be kept. No one looks too closely into family histories and origin stories while they’re busy fighting a war.
As she fiddled with her cup, she distinctly remembered a conversation with her grandfather and somehow her theory made even more sense in light of that.

 

“Tsu-tsu! You look really cute today!”

“It’s Tsunade. I’m almost five, grandpa!”

“Ah, I forgot. Already a big girl! Maybe I should show you your first jutsu then?”

“Uncle taught me the transformation jutsu. He said that he already knew a lot of jutsus at five and that I should learn some too.”

“Tobirama did? He really spoils you!”

“Grandpa, why does uncle not have any children?”

“There has been someone he loved very much. But she died during the war. I think he still loves her.”

“Then why didn’t they have children before the war?”

“I’m sorry, little one. I don’t know that much about it. Just that they loved each other and that her family disapproved.”

“That’s stupid. If I find my love, I will marry him. Doesn’t matter what YOU say.. or, or mom, or dad!”

“We will never stop you Tsu-Tsu. Always go with your heart.”

 

Everything would be much easier if she had just asked Tobirama. She had loved him too much though and even as a kid she had recognized the pain whenever she talked about family. He had indeed spoiled her, taught her a lot about healing and ninjutsu. Without his guidance she wouldn’t be who she was today. Her interest in seals would have withered away with no one to teach her. Sealing jutsus had rarely been used in the war times and apart from the Uzumaki clan no one kept records. Shortly before her death her grandmother taught her one seal, the ‘strength of a hundred’. Even that she did reluctantly though. Tobirama always praised her for being curious. Tsunade also remembered how hard Tobirama tried to hide his disappointment after trying and failing to teach her and Nawaki about sensing chakra. The greatest sensor ever known – and he had no relatives with any talent for it.

Thinking of that – He did leave her a scroll with instructions, if she had kids.. Well, it was thoughtful of him. Knowing Tobirama it was probably sealed, it would need a chakra signature from the Senju bloodline to open it. Maybe...

Chapter Text

“Yo, did they agree?”

Tsunade looked up in time to see Kakashi hop in through the window. He wore the usual jonin uniform. He approached her with his crinkling eye smile and produced two sake bottles from his vest.

“They don’t like it. They want the mask off, at the very least for the portrait and official pictures. They’d allow you to keep wearing it otherwise. I might be able to talk them out of it, but then I need a good argument. Why won’t you take it off?”

“I won’t do it. If they don’t let me keep the mask, I won’t become the next Hokage. Isn’t that reason enough?”

“Do better.”

Kakashi tossed her a bottle and nonchalantly leaned against her desk. Absent-mindedly he toyed with his own bottle.

“Why does it matter?”

“That is exactly what they asked me too. You are not an ANBU. I have seen your face, you are not disfigured or in any way horrible to look at. I know that at the very least three other medic nin and Yamato have seen your face. It’s not a principle thing, right?”

“It should be.”

Tsunade eyed him warily. But he didn’t show any signs of finishing that thought. So she made a big show of emptying the bottle in one go and stood up abruptly. She was pretty sure she had brought that scroll here. Kakashi didn’t question her rummaging through the scrolls. He stayed put and waited. It didn’t take too long. After a while she handed him a small blue scroll. It had a chakra seal on it. Carefully drawn out and obviously extremely intricate.
Kakashi took it. He traced a few of the symbols, before stopping at a specific one. He looked at Tsunade, waiting for an explanation.

“Open it.”

“I can’t. It’s chakra sealed.”

“I know.”

“I might not know a lot about seals, but this is obviously advanced and meant for a Senju. I would rather not try my luck.”

“I sat through hours of meaningless debates about your mask, Hatake. Try it.”

 

The jonin didn’t argue any further. On the contrary, he seemed rather intrigued. He studied the seal for a few minutes, before deciding on something. He held the scroll in one hand, the other reaching for Tsunade. Before she could react he pressed her palm on the seal. It started glowing blue, but the scroll didn’t open.

“Interesting.”

“Hatake.. you are trying my patience. Do it with your own chakra.”

Kakashi looked at her, as if she was insane. At her determined stare, he eventually shrugged and put his own hand on it. Then he slowly and steadily released chakra, the characteristic fizzling white chakra slowly changed to a calmer blue one and then to a healer’s green chakra. The seal changed colors with the chakra and ever so slowly the scroll unrolled. It stopped quickly, only revealing a small portion of the scroll. The dark grey eyes were jumping quickly from word to word. As he finished his eyes snapped up again and fixed Tsunade.

“What is the meaning of this?”

Tsunade leaned into his space to read it. It said something like only a descendant of the Senju bloodline or a sensor could open it. The author congratulated the reader on opening the scroll and assured them that he would teach them about being a sensor, once they were able to control their chakra better. The task was to infuse chakra of all five elements and healing chakra on top of it. It was signed by Tobirama Senju. Just Tobirama – he must have written it before becoming the second Hokage.

“It means that you have a chance to become a sensor. Or rather, I’m sure you can become even better.”

“I’m not a sensor. Sensei was the last one Konoha had. Maybe the Inuzuka would be interested?”

"I grew up with the Konoha's greatest sensor. Don't think, I wouldn't notice the way you cower whenever you're chakra-depleted. You've been enhancing your senses for years."

"Ah, in that case, I clearly don't need it. Hokage-sama."

“Hatake, consider it a gift. I was never able to open it and I’m glad that I could see that script once more. Go and try it. For Nidaime’s sake.”

Chapter Text

As the most likely candidate for the sixth Hokage, Kakashi was not allowed to take missions. His orders were to stay within a one day journey of Konoha and as a personal favor to Tsunade he agreed to comply.

Kakashi was not keen on becoming Hokage. He had only agreed to succeed Tsunade during the war, when there had been no time to look for a better candidate. Even then he had insisted that it would have to be a temporary thing. Without Tenzo’s reassurance, he might have denied it anyway. As far as he knew there were only three official candidates. Himself, Naruto and Shikamaru. Knowing that he was the most likely choice, Kakashi did his best to sabotage. With any luck, the Elders would be annoyed enough to beg for Tsunade to stay.

For the last few weeks he had made sure to be seen reading his book everywhere. He had played a few pranks on Iruka and visited Gai in the hospital. Well, technically he was sitting on a tree outside the hospital – He’d never set foot in that building out of his own free will. Tenzo had disappeared. He had a few guesses as to why, but since he was no longer an ANBU he pretended to be oblivious. So his public image as a slouch and pervert fresh in everyone’s mind he had decided to spend some quality time with his pack.

It had been a while since he had all of them out. The thrilling sensation of running in a pack, playfully shoving each other and racing, he had missed it. Pakkun had taken his spot on his left shoulder, unwilling to participate in the chase.

“Where are we going?”

“Hmm.. How about the waterfall? We could stay for a few days.”

“...spit it out.”

“Rude, I just want to spend some time with the pack.”

“Oi brat, tell me what you’re planning. You could have spend time with us at home.”

“I need a quiet place to study. And I thought you might enjoy a trip.”

“Study? Fine, we can guard you. I hope you brought treats.”

Kakashi just smiled at the pug. He loved his dogs and they clearly understood him much better than most humans. He had felt unbalanced and vulnerable since losing the sharingan. Being in the middle of his pack finally calmed him down. Maybe he could develop a new fighting style. He still remembered his original ideas, before he had even known about the sharingan. It certainly didn’t hurt that his chakra reserves finally didn’t need to compensate for a borrowed kekkei genkai anymore.

Completely lost in his thoughts, Kakashi was a bit too late to dodge Guruko’s playful shove. He missed the next branch and instead hit the tree trunk. Guruko was one of his smaller ninkens, not used to his tackles being effective. In all fairness, Kakashi should have dodged that. The pack had noticed, of course they had. All eyes were trained on their summoner. He calmly put Pakkun on the next branch. It was a nice day. Only a light breeze, the sun was finding its way through the tree tops.

“Guruko, come here. We’re it. If we catch all of them before they reach the waterfall, you get all of today’s treats. Guys, you have five seconds.”

It took only a second for the other seven dogs to disappear. Kakashi scratched lightly behind Guruko’s ear.

“You have to get Uhei. Sprint ahead. I’ll catch up from the back.”

Guruko went off immediately. Since Uhei was a greyhound and the fastest of the ninkens, he had no time to hesitate. He had no doubt that his alpha would catch most of the pack within the next 300 meters.

 

Kakashi closed his eyes, concentrating his chakra in his ears and nose. His vest still smelt of Pakkun. The smell was too strong though, the pug couldn’t be far away. The wind kept rustling leaves around him, distracting, but natural. Not from a dog’s movement. There was only one logical reason for this.
The shinobi followed the scent trail about twenty meters before he suddenly punched the ground with a chakra-infused fist. The little pug jumped out, but was immediately caught.

“...fine. You got me.”

“Good hiding spot. Too bad your scent was still fresh.”

“Sometimes I forget how good your nose is.”

Pakkun was obviously a little annoyed, but didn’t protest when Kakashi picked him up and put him back on his shoulder. Already sprinting off again. One found – six to go. He could hear the faint patter of two sets of paws around 100 meter in front of him, slightly to the left. They had to be roughly the same size. Most likely Urushi and Shiba. Bull’s heavy steps were echoing from a bit further away, straight ahead. He couldn’t hear the other dogs. Not even Guruko.

Chapter Text

“That’s cheating. You’re out. Pakkun, lead them to the waterfall.”

“Okay, boss.”

 

The pug jumped onto Bull, nibbling his ear. The bigger dog immediately stopped in his tracks and dropped Guruko carefully to the ground. Guruko didn’t waste a second and chased after Kakashi. It didn’t take long for the other ‘captured’ dogs to catch up with them.

“You know boss hates it, when we don’t play by the rules.”

Bull sighed, but defiantly looked away. He had just wanted treats. Only one of the pack had to reach the waterfall before Kakashi. Only Uhei. They had decided that in the blink of an eye. All splitting up in slightly different directions, while Uhei just ran straight ahead on top speed. But they knew, that running without any chasers could never be as fast, as little Guruko running as hard as he could to get on their leader’s good side. So what if Bull had caught the smaller one? So what, if he acted like a ninja. That’s what he was trained to do.

They had a strict hierarchy. So when Pakkun lead them, Bull, Shiba and Urushi followed. All of them could hear a yelp a few meters ahead of them. Another one down. The chances for treats grew slimmer.

 

In the meantime Kakashi had found Akino by pure luck. The light had reflected on his sunglasses and hit Kakashi’s line of sight. Even without seeing the dog himself, he could clearly calculate where he had to be. A few subtle hand signs later, Akino yelped at the sudden hit and crawled out of a bush. He had been hit by a rubber ball that he promptly picked up and threw back at Kakashi.

Guruko caught the ball, running alongside Kakashi. He stayed close.

Kakashi couldn’t hear or smell the remaining two ninken. They had just passed a stream. Uhei and Bisuke probably crossed it in an attempt to diffuse their trails. Only another 300 meters to the waterfall. Time to try a gamble.

“Guruko, perimeter. Lefthand, 50 meters.”

The ninken obeyed instantly. Kakashi had enough of tracking the dogs. He sent chakra to his feet and made for the waterfall as fast as he could. It would blow his cover. They’d hear him coming, but he had to try. He couldn’t sense them, so all that was left, was waiting for them to come to him.

As he sprinted forward Kakashi still tried to get a sniff of Uhei or Bisuke. He knew it was unlikely with tail wind, but it couldn’t hurt to keep trying. For a split second he saw red fur in front of him, before it disappeared into the leaves. The trees stood closer here and it was getting harder for a man of his height to get through it. As he dropped to the forest floor to quicken his pace, he could hear a loud bark from his left. Guruko must have found Bisuke. Only Uhei left.

Another 100 meters to the waterfall, at most.

Kakashi could see the blue of Uhei’s jacket. It would be easy to use a doton-jutsu. Uhei was fast, the perfect ninken for hunting down fleeing ninjas. But Uhei was slow to adapt, never expecting an attack from behind, too focused on the goal in front of him. Kakashi was half-heartedly forming the signs for a mudwall – but never used it. Felt like cheating.

Uhei ran and ran and RAN. Faster. He could smell his pack leader behind him. It was on him now. He gave up on his cover and dropped to the forest floor. Only speed could earn him a win. He flinched when something sharp dug into his hindpaw, but the waterfall was too close. He could not lose now. The adrenaline of being chased urged him on. More than the treats, he wanted a victory against alpha. The clearing was in front of him now, the sun was shining through the last leaves.

One enormous jump later, Uhei was splashing in the waterfall. Barking and howling in victory.

The ninken had not seen, how close a pale hand had been to his scruff. He hadn’t felt the danger of being grabbed. He definitely hadn’t seen Kakashi jerking back the very moment the smell of blood had filled his nose. Uhei had been too overwhelmed by his win to hear the abrupt crash of the earth behind him flying up as the ninja came to a stop.

 

Kakashi watched Uhei dive into the water. It took him longer than he would have liked to match the scent of blood with Uhei’s paw. With the sharingan he would have known immediately. He would have found Pakkun faster and wouldn’t have had to rely on luck to find Akino. And he woud have seen the long forgotten shuriken on the forest floor and grabbed Uhei before he could step into it. As he inhaled deeply, he remembered all the times the sharingan had been invaluable to his fights. But he also remembered other times when he had been close to chakra depletion and would have given everything to turn the damn thing off. His resolve grew even stronger as he stepped out to the clearing, he would have to start from scratch again.

Chapter Text

The approaching dogs were quick to join the howling and splashing.

Except for Guruko who carefully avoided them. He hung his head as much as he could. Only a gentle push from his alpha got him to lighten up. Kakashi was smiling at him. Everything was okay. Guruko even got a pat on the head – the universally acknowledged sign for ‘good boy’.

“Okay, time for some training. You will all get your treats in the afternoon. Set up a guard and warn me if anyone approaches. Stay hidden if possible. Uhei, come with me for a bit.”

The ninken spread out quickly, roughly in a circle, but still hidden in the forest. As much as they loved to play, they were trained to be deadly. Kakashi rarely asked them to guard and the pack had agreed that in turn they would not complain about it. Many of the other ninken they knew were trained exclusively for guarding, unimaginable for them. It was the most boring part of the job. They much preferred tracking people or delivering messages. Then they got to run and they could work with alpha instead of for him.

Kakashi sat down on the dry grass and patted the ground beside him. Uhei followed swiftly.

“You can help me train. Just lay down for me and let me look at your paw.”

Uhei rolled onto his back, stretching his legs as far as they would go towards Kakashi. He was still breathing heavily from his last sprint and as his ribcage moved vigorously so did his legs. Kakashi gently pushed down on his frontpaws until Uhei let them rest on the ground again, turned onto his right side. Uhei waited patiently as his left hindpaw was inspected. The greyhound winced when Kakashi used alcohol to desinfect the wound.

“You’re lucky. It’s only a small cut, clean and straight. I’m a bit out of practice, but I can heal it for you.”

 

Pakkun stood guard a little further away. He watched as Kakashi started to heal Uhei. A familiar green glow. The little pug remembered a time when Kakashi had tried to heal all kinds of animals. Both disappointed and intrigued by his failures at it – It had been the first thing as a small boy that Kakashi did not understand. He had failed before. But he had always understood why and with enough practice he mastered those things. Not healing though. Sure, he became good enough to heal minor cuts and scratches. But he had wanted to heal broken legs or wings and he never got to that point. So maybe, it was a good thing he tried again. Pakkun still remembered that the kid had wanted to heal, long before he had become a killer. The deaths early in his life had numbed him though, no matter how hard the pack had tried, he’d buried his emotions. Definitely so after Rin’s death. He never tried to heal after that. Until now, apparently.

Kakashi tried his best to appear confident and calm. He was not feeling it though. He was nervous, also a little anxious about hurting his companion. He had zapped people before. It was a thing with lightning nature, hard to control at times, uncontrolled spikes of chakra at the worst. As he concentrated chakra in his right hand, he pictured a peaceful meadow full of life – flowers and animals alike. His characeristic white sizzling chakra slowly changed into something calmer, a green simmer. Still not completely even, not entirely balanced. Kakashi frowned upon it, he used to be better at this. His glowing hand reminded him of Rin and the eye transplant. Had he used the sharingan to be better at healing? That didn’t make sense though, he had hardly used medical jutsu in ANBU and more often then not he had been the one in need of a medic.

He stopped for a moment, acknowledging that his chakra was of a lighter shade of green than Tsunade’s or Sakura’s. It stilled fluctuated a little in its intensity, but it didn’t spike anymore. He let it hover closely over Uhei’s injury, willing his chakra to flow into the wound. Imagining chakra threads, stitching through flesh, pure energy staying there to mend unnaturally parted structures. Pulling out the blood that had spread into tissue where it didn’t belong, it was a little like manipulating water. Easier than the stitches and mending. Kakashi stopped at Uhei’s sudden whining, realizing a second too late that he had used too much chakra.

“Sorry about that. You should be fine now. Test it for me?”

Uhei got up. He slowly put weight on the paw in question, stomped on it a few times. There was no real pain anymore, just the shadow of it. With Kakashi’s nod of approval, Uhei went to join the others on guard duty.

Kakashi allowed his mind to wander. There was something about healing. Why would the Nidaime specifically design the scroll to need healing chakra? Not every shinobi could use it in the first place and even less had the chakra control necessary to switch as quickly between the chakra types. He considered going for the scroll directly, but decided that it wouldn’t do. He was curious about sensing, but before he’d get to that, he had to get used to move and fight without the sharingan.

The fastest way to train was using shadow clones and Kakashi was pleased that he had enough chakra to use five at once, without fear of passing out once they vanished, culminating all fatigue into his original body. The six Kakashis split in groups of two, immediately dropping into taijutsu stances.

Chapter Text

Tsunade sat at her desk. She was filling out paperwork and trying to forget about the meeting with the Elders this afternoon.

The stack of forms slowly but surely got smaller. Most of it were propositions for new political unions, there was a lot of change after a war. She signed off the easy ones. The ones that were about shared guard duties or forming teams together with the Sand. She trusted Gaara. Besides, she’d be damned if she let Shikamaru back out of that romance with Temari. They were both longe range fighters and stealthy enough. She’d send them to spy on that suspicious lord. Many long days of observing, boring mission really. Perfect to form a deeper bond though.

 

Paperwork wasn’t her favourite thing, but after such a hectic time and too many close calls in battle, it was mind-numbingly peaceful. It was tiring in a different way, much preferable to the worry of impending deaths. Mainly, it was better than thinking about the prisoners she’d have to deal with. She felt a personal responsibility for Orochimaru and even though she didn’t exactly like him, she couldn’t deny that his research was helpful. The ends might have justified the means. She didn’t like the thought, but Danzo had not been altogether wrong. Without these two they wouldn’t have had the means to defeat Kaguya. There would have been no Yamato – or rather no mokuton – to help train Naruto. Sasuke might have never gotten the Mangekyou. Sai would have never become part of team 7. She herself would have died on the battlefield. She’d never justify their actions, but she couldn’t deny seeing their approach. Sasuke though, she was at a loss. That was a decision she’d gladly leave to the next Hokage.

 

Tsunade looked up when Shizune put a new stack of paper on her desk. Her friend looked tired too. Both of them had been working in the hospital for two weeks straight after the war. Eventually, Tsunade had decided to clean up the most urgent of the political messes, leaving her apprentice to tend to the injured. As always Shizune had smiled and done what Tsunade asked. The Hokage was grateful to have such a reliable assistant. Shizune was a good fit for the role of advisor too. Even though Tsunade would never admit it, Shizune was technically a better medic and only paled in comparison to Tsunade because of the huge difference in chakra reserves. There was a scroll hidden in the back of her drawers that would promote Shizune to be the head of the hospital and therefore grant her a permanent seat in the council of Konoha. But that was something they’d have to discuss another time.

 

Tonton squealed loudly and rushed to Tsunade’s side. So the Elders were early as usual. Tsunade sighed. Another meeting, another round of useless debates. If it hadn’t been for letters from other villages demanding the war hero to become Hokage, this would have been over already. Logically, they all knew Kakashi was the best choice. The issue with the mask was just a pretense to draw this out, while the Elders waited to hear from the other councils. It had been mainly low-ranked ninja that asked for Naruto. Honestly, it made sense to check the situation before they made a definite decision. Everything could have been easy, if it wasn’t for Elder Utatane. That woman for some reason couldn’t accept Kakashi as a valuable option. She did everything in her power to draw a bad image of him. She was the one who wouldn’t accept the mask. She was also responsible for bringing up Sakumo and how his son had no reason to stay loyal to the village that essentially betrayed his father. She insisted that there were no family ties left to bind the man and that he was already a security risk with all the classified information he had. She went as far as boldly proposing to put him back into ANBU and hoping for his death in the near future. It wouldn’t be an overstatement to say Tsunade despised her.

Luckily for her, Tsunade didn’t need to play nice anymore. She’d leave the village as soon as Kakashi took over and Naruto was completely healed. So maybe she could provoke Koharu Utatane enough to get to the actual reason that she hated Kakashi.

 

“Shizune, go buy me a few minutes.”

 

As the door closed again, Tsunade considered the smaller stack of open assignments. It was really a shame that she had to bench Kakashi. With everyone working on rebuilding Konoha and treating the injured, there were only a handful shinobi left that she could asign S-rank missions. They had lost a lot of ANBUs too. She was torn between letting Kakashi use this time to train and the need of capable ninja. They had a few missions that were basically errand runs, but she didn’t have enough people. Maybe she could bend the rules a bit for those. She would just have to sell it to the man.

 

The Elders didn’t knock, they never did. At least they went straight to the little couch area. They had a few scrolls with them. Only the Hyuuga Elder that had been called into the council by Tsunade herself bothered to greet her.

 

This would be another long day.

Chapter Text

“Boss.”

Kakashi lay on the ground, panting. He had just dissolved the shadow clones, now feeling all the exhaustion and minor bruises. He didn’t react until the pug, sitting on his chest, swatted at his chin. It was still a non-verbal reaction, but he was looking at the dog.

“It’s afternoon now. You should have a break.”

“Maa, give me a minute. You’ll get your treats.”

Pakkun stayed right where he was. Kakashi’s breathing calmed slowly. The other dogs approached one after another. Instead of waiting for their leader to get up, they just sprawled out next to him. Bull licked him across the face, while lightly nudging his shoulder. Kakashi gave in and rolled onto his side, allowing Bull to wedge himself in between his alpha and the ground. It was a silent apology. Kakashi leaned into the big dog, accepting it.

He was fully alert. Comfortable, surrounded by his pack. When lastly Akino appeared with a scroll in his mouth. It had a red band, looked official. He dropped it in Kakashi’s lap. Konoha’s sigil was on it.

“Where did you get this?”

Akino growled, before slowly and carefully picking his words. Akino did not like human speech. Of course, all of the ninken could talk, but more often then not Pakkun spoke for the pack if necessary.

“I saw a falcon, it fell abruptly. When I checked, the bird was dead, smelled like poison. Might be important.”

 

Kakashi opened the scroll carefully. Better safe, than sorry. There could be a trap in there. It opened without any trouble, but it was blank. Was this a mistake? Still, it was undoubtedly a scroll from the Leaf and Akino had guarded the way home. The bird was headed to Konoha.

When he looked closer, he saw little indentations on the wooden handle. They looked suspiciously like cat whiskers. That was the ANBU’s way of marking scrolls. Obviously, Kakashi could just send one of the dogs to Tsunade, but this was Cat’s mark. Usually, he couldn’t be sure whether the mark belonged to Yugao or Tenzo, but he knew Yugao was on guard duty. He had passed her on his way out. He was not supposed to know where Tenzo was and nobody had let anything slip. Why his two old teammates never resolved the issue of using the same codename was beyond him.

 

He considered trying to decode the scroll. This looked like an urgent message and he knew the easiest jutsus to make ink disappear and reappear. Most likely, Tenzo had even used the one Kakashi had taught him years earlier. Although once he broke the jutsu, he would be unable to redo it. He had promised Tsunade not to get into trouble and reading a secret scroll would be trouble. Depending on the intel, he’d have to act dumb or even suppress the urge to break his promise and run to Tenzo’s help. He really shouldn’t mess with the scroll.

If he sent Pakkun or Urushi to Konoha with the scroll, they could maybe get a glimpse of the content. They were good at hiding, also the only two ninken who could read. He’d have to decide quickly. Intel got old too fast.

“Urushi. Bring the scroll to Tsunade. DIRECTLY. No one in Konoha can see you. No one can see the scroll apart from her, understood? Tell her, if Tenzo is in trouble, I volunteer. Try to read as much as you can and report back.”

Urushi let Kakashi tie the scroll to his back. The ninken hated carrying stuff in his mouth. He was an agressive fighter, but showing off sharp teeth often times was enough to avoid a fight altogether. The ANBU used to joke that Urushi looked like Hound. He was lean and agile, hardly made any sounds, he always looked angry and his fur would sometimes cover his eyes. Urushi was ready to attack, he acted on instinct and had to go through rough training to learn patience. The ninken accepted that judgement. He was best suited for Hound. But his leader was not Hound, not right now, maybe never again. Urushi liked Kakashi better.

As soon as the scroll was securely tied to his back, Urushi ran off. He had no time to lose. All ninken had learned that knowledge was power. Intel could save lives, or condemn them.

 

"Akino, lead us to the falcon."

Chapter Text

It took Urushi less than two hours to get back to Konoha. Slipping by the guards was more difficult, but not much of a problem since he still remembered the rotating system the ANBU used. It had been his alpha who refined it after all. Urushi knew every weakness, he slipped through a hole in the gate precisely when Cat – the female one – and Boar switched positions. He kept to the shadows of the streets ducking behind barrels, before taking to the trees in front of Hokage tower. Alpha once said they must have been planted exactly for this.

The Hokage was in her office arguing with three old people. On second glance Urushi recognized them as the extremely hostile woman and the unnervingly passive man of Konoha’s council. The third had the pale eyes of a Hyuuga. Urushi was not to be seen, so he moved deeper into the branches letting the leaves hide him. He waited.

The humans talked. Urushi watched as the Hokage started pacing, gesturing wildly. The old woman stood up too, glaring, talking fast. The angle was off, too awkward for the ninken to read her lips. She wore a deep frown though and made no signs of backing off. Apparently, the Hokage had enough. With two large strides she reached the window and flung it open, to take a deep breath.

 

“Be reasonable, Tsunade! He’s a security risk. That man has no reason to stay loyal to the Leaf! He knows too much and he can’t be trusted. Send him back to ANBU, give him the worst missions and hope for his death!”

Urushi could see the dangerous glint of killing intent before the Hokage turned to face the elder woman. He could see the rigid muscles in her back, speaking of barely contained rage.

“Elder Utatane, we've been over this before. Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t trust the man who lead the Great Shinobi Alliance and almost gave his life to protect the Leaf! Why should I not trust the man who was willing to lay down his life just to relay intel on Pain?”

The Elder sat down again, silently placing her palm on the other Elder’s knee. The passive man nodded gravely.

 

“The Leaf is directly responsible for the White Fang’s death. We have done nothing to earn Hound’s loyalty. He has no family left here. We abandoned him and the Hatake clan followed our lead. The Uzumaki child is different, because he is an idealist and has gained a lot of friends here. Hound lost everything. I will not deny his competence, but he can’t be trusted.”

“We don’t have a HOUND right now. Use their damn names. What the Leaf did to Sakumo was horrible and I’m sure Kakashi was angry. He has suffered more loss than any of you can imagine and because of you he was left alone with his trauma. Only Minato... But that is not relevant! After all he went through Kakashi always stayed loyal to Konoha. If he really meant to destroy the village, he could have done it a long time ago. Nobody could have stopped him.”

“Exactly. Nobody could stop him now either. If anything, it would be even easier. He knows way too much.”

Tsunade’s fist connected heavily with the table, splitting it in two and cracking the floor. The Hyuuga stayed perfectly still while the other two flinched. Tonton squealed loudly and went to hide behind the big desk.

 

“Cut it out! Give me the real reason - or leave right now!”

“You must be aware of Orochimaru’s interest in Hound! He is hiding something. After his father’s death I tried to find his relatives. Sakumo grew up with Sukea Hatake who was supposed to be his cousin. Well, Sukea himself had been long dead and did not have children of his own. Not a single member of the Hatake clan knew Sakumo’s parents. He came to live with Sukea as an orphan. We know nothing about his heritage. He might not be a Hatake at all. Father and son both are too tall and lightning nature had never occurred before them.”

 

The Hyuuga Elder rose gracefully. He bowed politely to Tsunade, before collecting the scrolls shattered across the floor. Tense silence filled the room. Tsunade still glared at the sitting Elders.

“I believe it would be best to call it a day. Utatane, Mitokado, could you help me with the scrolls?”

 

The Hyuuga left with the other Elders trailing behind him. As soon as the door was shut, Urushi leaped through the window. He landed next to Tonton who squealed, prompting Tsunade to look at him.

She raised an eyebrow.

“We found a dead falcon with this scroll. It was headed to Konoha. It has an ANBU mark. Kakashi volunteers if Yamato needs help.”

Urushi stayed still as Tsunade untied the scroll. He could still smell waves of anger rolling off her. He jumped back onto the window sill as she broke the concealment, waiting for orders while trying to read as much as he could. He recognized Tenzo’s handwriting. It was harder to read than usual and all he could decipher before Tsunade moved too far away was a bit about being injured and asking to switch with Sai. Urushi was worried, all of the ninken considered Tenzo a part of their pack and pack protected each other.

Tsunade swiftly wrote a message and tied the piece of paper to Urushi’s back.

 

“Find Sai. He should be on guard duty on the east wall. Deliver the message and then lead him to Kakashi. I’ll need you to find Yamato. He’s in the land of Mist. Everything else depends on Yamato’s condition.”

“May I stop for soldier pills?”

Tsunade went for the top drawer of her desk, fishing out a green pouch.

“Take this. There are some pills and medical supplies in it. You need to hurry!”

Chapter Text

The falcon smelled like poison but there was none in its blood. Instead the smell came from blood stains on its feathers. The bird had died of exhaustion. It was far easier to examine a corpse with medical chakra than a living being. After all it didn’t really matter if Kakashi’s lightning nature came too close to the surface and fried neural pathways.

The poison smelled unfamiliar and he didn’t dare to touch it. If it was a big enough issue to force the poor falcon to such hurry, Kakashi wouldn’t try his luck. Tenzo had Hashirama’s cells and that reduced his recovery time significantly. So this poison had to be very potent.

Kakashi frowned at the small corpse. The feathers on its belly were definitely moist. If the bird had flown at top speed – rain wouldn’t do that, only mist. The weather had been nice for the last few days though, which meant Tenzo was not in the land of Fire. He had to be farther away, either all the way at the northern shore or more likely in the hidden Mist, possibly surrounded by Sound ninja - the only ones still loyal to Orochimaru. Sound Ninja had been spotted at their eastern borders, far away from their own village. That would mean Tenzo was looking for the Sannin – shortly after enduring torture by this very man. Kakashi could not leave his friend to suffer through trauma again – there had been enough of that.

“Guys, take a good sniff. We’re looking for Tenzo. Shiba, you stay behind and wait for Urushi. Follow my scent to catch up later.”

The ninken sniffed thoroughly while Kakashi took off his right glove and gave it to Shiba.

The pack took off in the general direction of the land of Mist. Only Shiba returned to the waterfall to await Urushi.

 

§§

The pack moved as one, following the most subtle hints to change course. Kakashi led them out of Konoha as quickly as he could. He used the old ANBU tracks, unused by now and hardly visible even if you knew where to look. They were fast, but it was a three day journey to the Mist. They’d make it in two, but then they’d be too exhausted to fight. Kakashi had already decided to let the pack rest, once they had a trail. Pakkun could ride on his shoulder and be his eyes, nose and ears. He would need the others in fighting form. Especially if he was going to push his own stamina and he would. He had a very bad feeling about this.

“Boss, I smell humans with food. Maybe merchants. Two female voices, four male. About 600 meters in front of us.”

“Guruko, observe them for 10 minutes. Report back after. We will go around them.”

 

§§

“The Hokage called for you, Bird-san.”

The group of ANBU didn't flinch. An ANBU was to adapt quickly and hide any sign of surprise or distress. Urushi had appeared out of nowhere right in the middle of their hastily signed discussion. The ninken knew the hand signs, Alpha still used them. It was a helpful tool to avoid making any noise. Urushi had seen half-formed jutsus and swift grabs for shuriken or kunai. He didn’t miss the tension leaving them either. They knew him and the pack. They knew Hound. With respectful nods they disappeared, leaving him alone with Bird.

The ANBU didn’t ask questions, he read the scroll and signed ‘understood’ and ‘lead’ to Urushi.

The ninken didn’t bother to hide from the ANBU guards any longer. Secrecy could be helpful, but there was nothing to hide from guards who were told to look the other way. They ran along the main road until they were hardly 200 meters from the waterfall, only then entering the forest at its thickest part. They took to the tree tops for speed.

Urushi leapt to Shiba’s side, noticing the blue glove on the ground. The rest of the pack was gone. They must have left more than two hours ago, their scents were fading.

“Where is Kakashi? Hokage ordered me to bring Bird to him.”

Urushi spoke in the human way, mindful of the young ANBU.

“The pack is looking for Cat. They are on their way to the land of the mi.. Mist.”

Shiba’s speech was hoarse, difficult to understand. He had suffered a wound to the throat back in their ANBU days and still struggled with speaking and barking. Certain sounds were hard to make and even painful.

Bird kept to sign language. Details were unnecessary, they had to hurry. He pointed at the glove, ‘lead us’.

Shiba picked up the glove and ran ahead. With Alpha’s scent in his nose, he didn’t need to search for tracks. He didn’t need to hide or observe their surroundings. A half-step behind him, that was Urushi’s job. It would take them up to a full two days to catch up with the pack, unless a fight would delay them. Possibly longer, if Kakashi found a scent trail to follow instead of searching the country.

Shiba could already smell the young ANBU’s sweat, he might slow them down in a few hours. He didn’t know Sai all too well, but from what he’d seen he was not used to running long distances. He hoped they caught up before Kakashi crossed the border. Tracking became frustratingly more difficult in the Mist.

 

§§

Back in Konoha Tsunade had called off all meetings for the day and disappeared with Shizune.

Elder Utatane had seen them run off and when the two ANBU guards followed a minute later she took her chance. She snuck into the unguarded office. She dealt in knowledge after all and she needed fresh intel. The Sand Elders were unhappy with their Kage too and they were willing to talk. Negotiating without a back-up plan was dangerous though. They’d have to be careful. The Kazekage’s siblings were observant and unlike their brother they had the trust of the council and the people.

She was pleased to find Tsunade’s proposition to send the girl on a mission with the Nara child. Excellent timing.

She was secretly betting on making him the Rokudaime. Maybe she could organize a little accident on that mission. She could blame the Sand and if they blamed the Leaf in turn... Yes, yes. Two Kage’s gone. Tsunade was too soft and with her gone, Utatane would have a lot more weight in chosing the Rokudaime.

“Looks like they’ll stay in the lab. You have two hours at least.”

The ANBU disappeared just as quickly as he had appeared and left Utatane to her spying.

Chapter Text

The sun was setting, leaving the pack with barely enough light to see the trees around them, yet Alpha showed no signs of stopping. Bull had moved right beside Alpha and used his body to steer him away from low hanging branches. While Kakashi didn’t slow down the pack could hear his steps now, a clear sign of fatigue. They had avoided three other merchant groups so far, only one had been guarded by shinobi. They were still in the land of Fire after all and Konoha could currently not meet the demand.

“Boss.”

Kakashi flinched at the sudden sound, narrowly avoiding a slip.

“You need to rest. We could miss an important hint in the dark.”

Kakashi shook his head.

“We can reach the border within six hours. Tenzo can’t be close. He hasn’t crossed here in the last two days. Otherwise I’m sure we’d already have a trail.”

Pakkun growled warningly.

“You can’t keep this up much longer. Neither can the pack.”

“Fine. I’ll reverse summon you to the house. Speak with Tsunade while you’re in Konoha. I’ll summon you again in the morning. Pakkun, make sure the pack eats and sleeps.”

Kakashi stopped abruptly, forming the hand signs too fast to distinguish them and slammed his hands against the closest tree trunk. The pack disappeared into puffs of smoke before they could protest.

He could not stop yet, but with the pack and any chance of finding a trail gone, he took a risk. Kakashi gave up on the cover of the trees, quickly finding the main road they had avoided so far. His muscles ached and he had not a lot of chakra left. He moved on determination alone. With the pack gone a new rush of adrenaline filled him. Hopefully, it would be enough to reach the border. He was confident that his body could take it, but he felt vulnerable without the additional eyes. If he had to fight now... The best he could hope for, was to avoid the enemies long enough to hide. A calculated risk – but he would not lose another friend.

 

§§

The pack appeared in the Hatake estate – confused at first.

Pakkun took charge before the pack could break out in panic. Alpha was alone and exhausted. It reminded them of the ANBU days when he had rarely relied on them and returned from missions half dead.

“SETTLE! Eat, then sleep. We have to be ready in the morning.”

They did as they were told. Pakkun did not wait for a response. He had to find Tsunade. He could not find a fresh smell from Urushi which meant he needed more information.

The sunlight had vanished completely and remembering Urushi’s earlier orders Pakkun stayed out of sight in his search for the Hokage.

The tower turned out to be deserted, so he followed his nose to the hospital – or rather the adjoining lab. There he found doors and windows locked, only gaining access by breaking glass.

He dodged the shuriken by a hair’s width, adressing ANBU Tiger with a growl.

“I have important intel. Where’s the Hokage?”

“I’m working, Pakkun. Urushi should have reached you by now, unless... Tiger, Monkey, you are dismissed. Let him through.”

The two ANBU disappeared. Pakkun could see Tsunade and Shizune now. They were studying scrolls and there were several small bottles scattered across a big table, containing strange smelling liquids. He could not identify them, unlike Akino he was not good with poison and herbs.

Tsunade beckoned him closer, not looking up from her reading.

“You did not get my message. Kakashi moved without my orders, why? And more importantly why did he send you back?”

Pakkun could not read the scrolls from where he was on the floor, but he could smell pack, so the scroll from Tenzo had to be there too.

“Boss found an unknown poison on the falcon. Not in the bird, but a blood stain on it. He’s worried that Yamato was poisoned and is looking for him now. We were about 9 hours from the border to the Mist when he reverse summoned us to rest.”

Tsunade sighed deeply. She straightened up, slowy putting away her reading glasses. She laughed humorlessly.

“Damn that brat and his instincts. He’s right. We found blood and traces of the poison when I released the liquid back into the scroll. It’s a new poison and we’ve been working on an antidote. It’s too early to be sure, but it looks like it was designed specifically to mute Hashirama’s cells. Anyone else would be dead by now and even Yamato... Wait, did Hatake send all of you back?”

Pakkun was perfectly capable of reading between the lines. He hung his head in a display of shame and regret.

“I told him to rest. Kakashi has been training right up until Akino found the scroll. We set out nearly on top speed. He aims to reach the border. He’s nearing the end of his stamina and chakra rapidly.”

“I thought without the sharingan..”

“Boss uses shadow clones to train.”

Tsunade closed her eyes in defeat. That idiot.

“Can you summon yourself to his side?”

“No, but he’ll summon us back in the morning.”

“Okay, we can work with that. Shizune, gather up our best soldier pills and the strongest antidote that might work. Pakkun, we need to debrief quickly. Afterwards you need to rest. I need the pack in the best possible shape. I’m afraid this will get ugly.”

 

§§

At the crack of dawn the pack startled awake when Akino – and only Akino – was summoned. Pakkun had filled them in the night before, they all knew the essentials. It was strange for Alpha to summon Akino instead of Pakkun though.

 

Akino was surprised to be summoned inside. The building was unknown to him, but he saw his Alpha huddled in a corner.

“We’re alone. This tower is sealed. Can you stand guard for an hour or two? I need some sleep.”

The ninken trotted closer, allowing Kakashi to pet him. His Alpha was soaked and he smelled of blood. His hand trembled as he scratched Akino’s head. The dog suppressed the urge to scold his leader and said the only thing he’d want to hear.

“Pakkun has more intel and he’ll bring soldier pills. The Hokage approves of your decision. You can rest.”

Kakashi gave him one of those eye crinkling smiles that had been so very rare before the war. The human drifted off quickly, hand still buried in Akino’s fur. The ninken curled up on top of him, sharing his body heat, feeling the unusually low temperature of his leader’s hand. A sure hint of sleep deprivation and exhaustion.

Chapter Text

Urushi and Shiba had indeed been forced to slow down. ANBU Bird was not slow by any means. The pack had just been trained for speed since they could walk. Their Alpha had started his shinobi life at too young an age to rely on strength, so he had focused on speed. Even though Kakashi was known for his ninjutsu, his speed and agility were what made him infamous as Hound. Everything could be a weapon if you had enough momentum and you hit vulnerable spots precisely.

They had followed Kakashi’s scent all afternoon and only stopped when the light got too faint. The ninken could have gone on for a bit, but they had decided to let the ANBU sleep and share guard duties between them. They would need Bird in fighting form and it was too early to rely on soldier pills.

Shiba stopped at an empty fox hole. It was hidden well enough between bushes and trees. A fire was out of the question, it would take too long. Bird set up a few quick traps and then disappeared into the hole. Urushi stood guard in the nearest tree while Shiba entered the hole too, putting his body between the ANBU and the outside world as the first line of defense.

The ANBU falling asleep within mere minutes was the biggest compliment the ninken could wish for.

 

 

§§

 

Kakashi woke up in cold sweat. Cramps took hold of his legs and he willed himself to hold still and wait for them to ease up. It took him a moment to become fully aware of his surroundings.

“How long?”

“About three hours.”

“Status?”

“No one approached. The tower is hidden in thick mist. Shiba will never find us here. You should limit your summoning to Pakkun and Bull. They have supplies. Tsunade ordered Urushi to bring Bird to you. He’ll take over Tenzo’s mission if necessary.”

Kakashi nodded. It was a good assessment. Moving with the whole pack would make it harder to hide and he needed to preserve chakra. If Tsunade sent another ANBU, Tenzo’s mission could not be abandoned. Either that or she thought he was not enough for a rescue mission. In his current state he could continue the search for 10 to 14 hours, then he’d need some real sleep. But that was alright, enough time to use the daylight.

He summoned Pakkun and Bull, relieved to see Bull laden with flasks and dried meat. He emptied one flask, only slightly slowing down once he tasted the electrolytes in it. He was listening to Pakkun's update nonetheless.

“Boss, where are we?”

“I don’t really know. Father told me about the tower once. He said it’s been long forgotten and hidden by seals. We are close to the old border. Maybe it was the last outpost back in the Founder’s Era. The Mist have tried to expand on this border quite often. I’d estimate we’ll need four hours to reach the current border and then we’ll need to be more careful. Unless we run into more Sound ninja, we should reach Tenzo’s location by nightfall.”

The dogs followed after their Alpha. They didn’t need to look for a scent trail. Tsunade had given them the last known position of Tenzo.

They felt strangely uneasy to leave the old tower behind. It had been familiar in the way of smelling your grandmother’s cooking after years of not having it or like it felt safe to be covered in a loved one’s jacket.

 

 

§§

 

Cat kept slipping in and out of consciousness. He had noticed the poison too late. As if getting injured in a simple trap wasn’t embarrassing enough, he had been hit by a kunai, cutting deep into his calf. Pulling it out right away would have meant immense blood loss. He cursed his own stupidity for leaving it in and never even thinking of poison. Especially considering that he had experienced his target’s proficiency with poison first hand. He had been foolish, unworthy of an ANBU captain.

An ANBU did not overthink mistakes. An ANBU did not pity himself, but Cat did remember a time when there had been worse enemies to chase and he had felt safer nonetheless. ANBU mostly worked alone, but fresh out of Root Cat had been on trial, not trusted to be loyal to the Leaf. His supervisor had been the one man who could have killed him in the blink of an eye. The ANBU who was not only feared outside the village, but within the organization itself: Hound.

He felt the poison numbing him. Not even Lord First’s cells were helping him. Cat used his mokuton to merge with the tree beside him. He had to keep watch. The mission had priority and there was nothing he could do about the poison anymore. Like all ANBU he had several explosive tags and the iron will to destroy his body, if death became inevitable.

 

 

§§

 

Kakashi and the ninken moved in silence. The tower was a good bit out of the way, so they had to backtrack for almost two hours. Kakashi had not told them what happened.

There were bloodstains on his clothes. One sleeve had been torn to shreds. Pakkun couldn’t smell fresh blood, neither did he find any visible wounds. But that meant nothing, Alpha was adept enough as a field medic. For Kakashi to seek out a safe place instead of hiding in the woods though, the enemies had to be good. Not good enough to incapacitate their leader, but good enough to escape him and get reinforcements.

“Bull.”

The large ninken fell in step right away.

“I need you to find Bird and the others. It will take too long, if they follow my trail. Tell them to use the main road and meet us straight at the border. At the gate. We'll wait there until 1400. I’ve encountered Sound ninja. There must be a base close by. They are kill on sights. It will make a retreat with Tenzo easier.”

Bull split off, running back to the ANBU trails. He still carried most of their provisions, but knowing Alpha he meant to save them for emergencies.

“Akino, rearguard. Pakkun, shoulder. I need your ears.”

Akino fell back two steps. He focused on the path behind them, nothing could slip by Alpha and Pakkun. At least, nothing ever had in the last 10 years or so.

Chapter Text

“Hokage-sama, this ninken collapsed in front of the hospital. I believe it is one of Hatake’s pack.”

The ANBU guard put down a wincing Akino on the closest examination table. The sunglasses were gone. The sightless right eye remained still while the left wildly searched the room. There was a shuriken stuck in his right flank. Shizune immediately moved to his side and started to examine him.

“Fresh sample... traps.. everything poisoned.. test antidote?”

It was obvious how much effort it took for him to speak. Akino no longer bothered with full sentences and Shizune shushed him quickly. She put on surgical gloves and slowly removed the weapon, she tried to pull it out in the exact angle it went in. She put it in a small metal container before she let her hands hover over the ninken again. Her fingers glowed in a rich green as she carefully extracted all the moisture around the wound. Dark red blood hovered in a formless blop, blackish liquid swirling around in it. She forced it to seperate, filling the poison into a bottle of its own. The blood she steadily inserted back into Akino’s body, he had lost too much of it already.

Tsunade dismissed the ANBU guards. She no longer trusted them, not after she saw Tiger with Elder Utatane after she had ordered him to bring her Hound’s mask. The Elders had no business talking to her guards.

She left Akino’s care to Shizune for the moment. Her attention was on the poison. They had run out of material a few hours ago and now she could finally test their last attempt at an antidote. If time didn’t run out, she’d rather not use it on Akino right away. She was well aware that the ninken was ready to die for Kakashi, but she had grown fond of the pack. After all, she had sworn no one would die in her care, not while she was still breathing. As she started multiple tests at once, she began talking to the ninken.

“Akino, status?”

“Hound fought Sound ninja. Smelled Cat.. but traps...Flanked Hound, poison works fast... burns.”

“Was Kakashi hit too? What about Bird? How strong is the enemy?”

“Hound.. been Hound since the border... Bird still catching up.”

Tsunade paused for a moment. Her tests went fairly well so far, but it was not a perfect match. Not yet. It took her a moment, but then it dawned on her. If Kakashi slipped into Hound...

“Tower, at the old border...”

Akino coughed up blood. Tsunade caught her assistant’s frantic eyes. He got worse too fast.

“Hound.. will hole up there.”

The ninken started seizing, his limbs were cramping and stretching uncontrollably. Tsunade grabbed the new antidote, she filled a syringe and stuck it into Akino’s aorta. It was risky, but there was no time left. She ignored Shizune’s panicked pleas for her to wait. Three hands covered in green hovering over him the husky-mix convulsed even worse, howling pitifully.

 

    §§

When Bull had met up with them, they had automatically assumed the triangle formation. Shiba was in the lead, since he knew this part of the country better, Bull and Urushi flanked Bird. The ANBU had proposed to use his ink jutsu to fly to Cat’s side but the ninken had objected to that. Bull had stressed the fact that while his leader wasn’t sneaking up on the enemies anymore, he did kill now. The presence of an intruder might be known, but not his identity and if Cat’s intel was accurate, the enemy already knew of his presence at least.

The ninken was proven right just a few minutes later when they saw several corpses burnt to crisp. Their headbands identified them as Sound ninja, unusual considering that their home town was half a continent away.

Bull split off from the group and started digging as quickly as he could. It would do them no good to leave the corpses laying around. They had to hide every trace of their path. The enemy could not know where they came from. That could compromise Cat’s mission.

Urushi saw a hint of hesitation in Bird's body language, a barely noticable stutter in his step, a twitch of the hand.

“He’ll catch up again. Hiding bodies is nothing new. We better hurry. I’m not sure Boss we’ll wait, if there are more enemies.”

Shiba picked up the pace. His ears were twitching. He focused intently on any sounds of battle. They were travelling a lot faster since they took to the road.

 

Two hours – and two dead patrols – later Shiba caught a whiff of Akino’s scent. He followed it to another battleside. He noticed the telltale holes and wires of triggered traps and whirled around a second later, before Urushi and Bird could catch up.

“Stop! Poison!”

This fight scene looked different. The bodies were scattered, not piled and hidden in leaves. It was a larger group of enemies too, eight dead. Shiba very clearly smelled poison, what concerned him more was the intensity of Akino’s smell. He whined lowly when he discovered the puddle of blood. Only comforted when Urushi nudged him to see the scattered earth beside it and the faint smell of Alpha’s blood.

Bull joined them, wedging himself between them. He licked Shiba’s head, he nudged him away from the blood. When that didn’t work he allowed Shiba to lean into him and looked at Urushi instead. Shiba trembled slightly, he did his best to compose himself. Shiba and Akino were very close after all. They had joined the pack at the same time, even though Akino was a year older and Shiba had stuck to his side ever since. They had learned to sniff out poison together and Shiba smelled it in Akino’s blood. The same poison from the falcon, the one Urushi had said to be very potent.

It was Urushi who suppressed his instincts the fastest. He turned to Bird, his eyes hard and cold.

“Can you hide the bodies? Earth style would be best. Bury them and their poisoned weapons... Leaving them like this.. Boss must have chased another enemy.”

Bird nodded and formed the signs for an earth wave.

“Move to the trees. It will give away our position though.”

Urushi bared his teeth and growled low.

“Doesn’t matter. Alpha will kill them all.”

Sai didn’t argue. He recognised distress and anger in the ninken’s behaviour, whatever they could smell, it wasn’t good. If the old stories of Hound and his pack were even remotely true, Sai had no doubt that Kakashi was seething. Not in the openly aggressive way Naruto would display, but rather a cold fury, a wrath turned into cruel slashes, missing the fatal points just narrowly enough to make the enemies suffer.

He remembered the shared patrols with Sand ANBU after the war, the relief in their body language when he had confirmed that ANBU Hound had officially retired. They weren’t even surprised that he survived the ANBU.

Sai thought that it should be obvious that it was Kakashi behind the mask. Konoha wouldn’t have hidden such a powerful shinobi during the war. But there was no need to test their knowledge, no need to tell them that the porcelain mask was on display in the ANBU headquarters where no one dared to touch it, no need to tell them that although Kakashi had retired six years ago, the mask vanished from time to time.

Chapter Text

“Pakkun, hide.”

The pug obeyed immediately. He jumped from Hound’s shoulder behind the next rock and watched as his Alpha quickly pushed the corpse of the last Sound shinobi deep into the ground, covering the crate with leaves.

The man who stood up no longer looked like his Alpha. It was a simple transformation, he looked like the ninja dead under his feet. Pakkun watched as Hound changed the image a little, adding small cuts. He did not hide the bandages on his right hand, neither did he heal the very real bruise starting to form on his shoulder. No one would have seen it in his usual clothes, but Pakkun had seen it happen and this particular Sound ninja had worn nothing but simple mesh armor and sturdy pants. In fact, he had not been ready for a fight and he had to thank his teammates for letting him escape in the first place.

Hound purposefully stumbled forward. He had long heard the approaching squad, bad luck for them. Their allies had injured one of his pack – in front of him. There was no way he’d show mercy. He wanted to slaughter them, taunt them. He wanted to give them the hope that they could win and then he’d kill them slowly, one after another. He’d take his time and make sure their comrades saw everything clearly, until there was only one left. That one he’d cripple, taking an arm – at the very least a hand. He’d fry their chakra pathways and then he’d let them go. Let them tell their story. He’d make them fear him again.

 

He saw the Sound ninja approach, two women. He pretended to faint, but was caught by the smaller woman. He already formed a jutsu when the taller woman’s words made him pause.

“Damn it! The tree bastard wasn’t alone after all! Ken.. Hey Kenshin!”

Hound closed his eyes, while he forced his pulse to slow down. They had Cat. They smelled like anger and the woman holding him trembled, too tense. He felt his body being rearranged between them, one arm over each woman, strong grips on his waist. He tolerated it, forced himself to stay limp. If they carried him to their base that was good enough for him. He could handle all of them at once. He still had about half of his chakra and the more he fought the easier it got to use his other senses. He was confident that he didn’t need the sharingan. His natural speed combined with the body flicker meant that he could react faster and more precise than any of them.

 

Pakkun followed at a safe distance. The Sound ninja moved much slower. If nothing else it gave the others a chance to catch up quicker. The patrols they had encountered since morning had slowed them down too. Uhei would have caught up by now, but with Bird slowing them down Shiba might need two more hours.

To make the tracking as easy as possible Pakkun left a very obvious scent trail. They were already far from the border and judging by the way Akino had suffered from the poison, Cat’s time was running out quickly. Even more so, if they had captured him.

 

 

§§

 

“Kinoe, open your eyes.”

Cat came to slowly. He couldn’t move his limbs. In fact, he couldn’t feel them at all. He opened his eyes on reflex, the way he had always obeyed that name spoken with this voice. His thoughts were sluggish, moving slowly as if he was underwater. He blinked a few times, until his vision cleared a bit more. He saw a mostly bandaged head, a walking cane and he heard the harsh voice of someone who was used to being obeyed.

“Kinoe, you strayed from our path. You’re a member of Root. Do you remember the mission I gave you?”

 

Cat.. or was it Kinoe now? He couldn’t remember. His head hurt and he still couldn’t move. He had suffered this punishment before, when he had been younger. Lying would make it worse.

He was shocked by how small and weak his voice sounded, but still relieved that something came out at all.

“No, Danzo-sama.”

Danzo stepped closer to Kinoe who was strapped to a bed. He nodded curtly and gave him a pat on the head.

“I will let it slide this time. You were badly injured. Sleep and recover. We’ll discuss your mission when you wake again.”

 

Kinoe tried to nod, but even that motion was impossible. So instead he closed his eyes and hoped for a dreamless sleep. It didn’t bother him that he couldn’t move. He had failed... something. And this was his punishment, he deserved it and more. But every instinct screamed at him that it was wrong. Why did only his head hurt? What about his arms? Why did this feel so familiar? Was it a déja-vu?

But he was exhausted and his superior had told him to rest. It was so much easier to follow the order.

 

The ANBU passed out. He could neither feel nor stop it when a foreign conciousness intruded his mind. He was helpless, lost in a clouded mind, body useless in its paralyzed state. If he had been alert, he would have laughed at his captor. He was not stupid, he did not fall for the same trick twice. Before the mission the Yamanaka had built mental blocks for him and Cat had insisted on not getting any intel. He did not know the current ANBU formation. He did not even know if Team Ro still existed. He had made himself completely expendable. As long as his falcon reached Konoha, nothing was lost.

Tenzo was blessedly oblivious to the world around him. He did not hear his captor leave, nor did he see the young Sound  ninja who was pushed into the room.

"Keep him alive!"

"You're lucky, Ken. Remember, if he dies, you die."

The young ninja bowed respectfully. When the door closed he moved to the bed. His hands started glowing in a light green as he examined the prisoner.

Chapter Text

He gave himself half an hour. He was aware of the guards just outside the door. Hound had been lucky, seeing as he had transformed into one of only two medics in the hide-out.

This Kenshin had been easy to kill and apparently he was considered weak by his comrades as well. They would have killed him if they did not need his medical jutsu. Especially after Hound had claimed that a single ANBU had eliminated his squad. He had described the attacker as a tall man who moved too fast to see more than a blue blurr. He explained his own survival by hiding at the first sounds of battle and only getting knocked out by the rubble of an earth jutsu. They had called him a useless brat and put him into Cat’s cell.

His Kohai hardly moved, only his chest rose and fell with shallow breaths.

Hound felt unfamiliar chakra pulsing through him, a genjutsu. In a short spike of white chakra he intercepted it, releasing Cat from whatever illusion they had put on him. There was a bigger problem though. The circulatory system had been weakened by the poison. Hound could tell that the slow pulse would only support the most important organs. He was certain that Cat would be unable to move on his own, probably he’d even be unable to hold on, when he had to carry him out of here. Hound could fight his way out, but not with Cat on his back and definitely not if he had to hold him steady. He had no time to find a way to sneak out either. He knew that the Sound had a few sensors and as far as he could tell he hadn’t fought one. Any big release of chakra would give him away as an intruder.

 

Hound’s mind was racing. He had no time if he wanted to save Cat. But his missions were conflicting each other. He remembered Pakkun emphasizing that Cat’s survival was the top priority for the Hokage, but Hound knew they could not ignore the threat of Orochimaru’s organization. They had the Sannin locked away in their deepest cell, his chakra sealed and two ANBU on guard at all times. The ANBU had explicit permission to use lethal force, if he so much as tried to manipulate them. He had surrendered after the war and Cat had escorted him to Konoha. They held their leader, but there was a second in command. A shinobi who understudied Orochimaru for a decade, who specialized in poison and who longed for attention and praise. A dangerous man to ignore, so Cat had set out to track him right after the war. Hound knew that they had to incapacitate Kabuto. His instincts told him to kill, his brain wanted intel and pleaded for capture.

His thoughts were interrupted by the guards speaking outside. Hound’s hand subconsciously reached for his right cheekbone. The words became clearer and he could understand most of it. They had noticed that their other squads were missing. Their leader had doubled the guards, but refused to send out search parties. They were speculating who was after them. One guard suspected that the Mist had found them at last, but was shot down by the other who insisted that every Mizukage  loved battle and if anything Lord Orochimaru fought the Leaf. Hound tuned out when they started arguing about the political change the fifth Mizukage forced through.

 

They were scared. They were distracted. Now, if Cat were awake and had just a little chakra...

 

Hound almost shook Cat before he stopped himself. Instead he tapped Cat’s temple in a slow steady rhythm. His other hand was still glowing green and monitoring body functions.

His Kohai seemed very young with his mask and happuri gone, hard lines defined his face. ANBU live fast and die faster. They were both anomalies, started young, completed over a hundred missions, became team leaders and most astonishingly they were still alive. Hound forced himself out of hyperfocus on the man before him when the pulse quickened and an eyebrow twitched.

As soon as Cat blinked at him, he signed ‘wait’ and ‘stay alert’ at him.

 

With wide eyes and frantic movements Hound sprinted to the door. He basically squealed.

“Hey, he woke up. What now? Please, I’m scared!”

The guards laughed in his face, but one of them still came in while the other waited outside.

“Idiot! He was poisoned, there’s no way he can move. See? All he does is glare!”

The guard could not mock them any longer, Hound had slit his throat. Their backs were to the door, for the other guard it seemed like Kenshin clung to the man in hope of protection, when in reality Hound held a corpse upright.

Hound signed at Cat again, slower this time. He saw the confusion in his expression. He was only mildly surprised when he got a whispered reply.

“Senpai?”

 

Hound dropped his transformation. He crouched down and hid his head behind the corpses shoulder. The changed clothes would still give him away, but all he needed were a few more minutes, before the other guard reacted.

He signed and whispered at the same time, unsure which sense worked better for Cat.

“We’re leaving. I’ll carry you. Can you transform into this guy?”

Cat’s reaction was slow.

 

“Can’t move. You do it.”

Chapter Text

Cat tried his best to stay calm. It felt weird to feel Hound’s chakra inside him, but it was necessary.

The sound ninja were on high alert. They were searching the whole cave system for the intruder. They had found Cat’s cell empty and Kabuto knew the ANBU could not have escaped on his own. They were searching for two skilled ninja who had already killed or knocked out several guards without triggering any alarms. In their panic nobody paid much attention to Kenshin carrying a wounded comrade towards the examination room. At least not until he walked past it, headed for the exit.

“Where are you going? Kioshi needs immediate treatment.”

Hound already wanted to make up some excuse of getting the wounded out of a fight zone, when he felt it. This kunoichi was different. Her chakra touched him briefly, but long enough to notice the transformation. A sensor. His cover was blown.

 

“Mayumi? Found anything?”

A group of four shinobi called out to her, they were not quite around the corner yet. Hound lost no time, he made a shadow clone who immediately attacked the kunoichi. She did not shout for help, instead she blew a tiny whistle.

The clone dissipated and Hound had to grit his teeth in pain, as a swarm of bats came flying towards them. The shrill sound of their cries hurt, everything drowned in the high-pitched sounds, too high for human ears to catch. Most humans. Hound had a hard time focusing. He cursed his stupidly sensitive ears. He lay Cat down on the ground and rose with raikiri already screeching, in a considerably lower pitch, a range any human could hear.

The bats were confused by the wild energy, they could no longer use their echolocation and crashed into the walls. The kunoichi looked petrified when the transformation on the two ANBU dropped, she recognized the white-haired ninja. She knew that horribly loud jutsu. She saw the entry in the bingo book in her mind’s eye. Kakashi Hatake. S-rank. No... ANBU Hound. Flee on sight. She knew, she was as good as dead. So with all the breath she had in her tiny body, she screamed.

“It’s HOUND. They’ve sent HOUND! Get the..”

She was silenced by a hand cutting through her chest.  Her gaze dropped, magnetically drawn to the white chakra lines dancing across long fingers. She saw the hand retreat as she fell. But she was satisfied, her comrades did not approach. With her chakra still stretched out in a wide net, she could sense them running towards the exit, towards the seals. They had a chance now, they’d drop half of the mountain on him. There was no point in evacuating. Too many died already, so what if they had to kill a few comrades. If they didn’t use this opportunity, Hound would kill them anyway. She was surprised when she felt one chakra signature approaching them, but she could not tell who it was.

 §§

Tsunade was headed straight to the old Hatake estate. She knew that Kakashi didn’t usually stay there, but she could not picture him sending his summons to the small studio where he actually slept. He was an unusual man in many things. One of the more obvious was that he kept his summons close, instead of sending them back to their original pack. The dogs almost acted like ninken of the Inuzuka clan when in all honesty they were chakra beasts and outmatched them in most aspects.

If anyone was surprised to see their Hokage craddling a rather large dog to her chest like a child, they didnt dare to comment on it. Shizune was trailing behind her while meticulously writing down the exact composition and recommended application of the antidote.

In front of the main door sat Guruko and Bisuke. The smaller dog was at Tsunade’s side in a flash. He whined lowly, trying and failing to get up to Akino.

“Stop it! He’ll be fine.”

Bisuke stopped his jumping. He kept watching Akino though. He had never seen any pack member in such a state. He had heard of close encounters. But it was mostly Alpha who got injured and he did tend to summon one of the more experienced dogs in a pinch. Others might expect Pakkun to be the most common choice, but more often then not it was between Urushi and Akino. So of course the pack was worried, seeing one of their strongest brought home smelling of antiseptics and latex, accompanied by two medics.

 

“Hokage-sama..”

The ANBU had body-flickered to her side, but was cut off by angry growls all around him. Uhei had jumped down from his spot on the roof and Guruko was already in biting range. Their instincts were in overdrive, they needed to be close. They had to protect Akino.

“Cut it OUT!”

The command was sharp and steady, even at its rather low volume. The three dogs fell silent and focused on Akino instead. They waited for another command, but they could only watch as Tsunade scolded Akino for moving. She kept walking towards the house. A raise of her eyebrow was all the ANBU needed to continue. He followed a good two meters behind, giving the dogs a wide berth.

“A messenger from the Mist arrived. The Elders have called an emergency meeting.”

“I’ll be there in half an hour. They are NOT allowed to start without me. Is that clear?”

Chapter Text

Cat squinted at the suddenly bright tunnel. The loud noise hurt his ears and he couldn’t hear anything but the chirping of the raikiri. He could do nothing on his own. His senses were dulled by the poison and now completely thrown off by his senpai’s jutsu. He blinked several times. The painful brightness gave way to one big shadow. Then he recognized white hair and his mind filled in the gaps. The shadow was made up of two people. His senpai stood in a low crouch his right arm connecting him to another ninja whose unsteady stance shifted forward, one hand stretched out towards the corner.

“Senpai, run.”

Even with his mind clouded as it was, he knew their chances were getting worse by the second. He might not be able to judge their situation, but Hound used his signature move and gave up any chance of hiding. They were not just in enemy territory but in a secret hide-out. There had to be traps, safe-guards, secret passages. Cat could not move and they were surrounded by enemies, there was only one option left. Damage control.

He tried to speak again, but only managed a whisper.

“Run... please.”

Cat gave in to the darkness. He was content, happy even. His falcon had reached Konoha and they had sent Hound. Not only would his mission be carried out by the most skilled tracker in ANBU, the Hokage had even sanctioned a rescue mission. This time someone had come for him. This time his pain had been short-lived. He’d die in action, in service of Konoha. He had not given up any information. He was finally.. redeemed by death.

 

 

Hound kneeled down with the momentum of his dead enemy. He withdrew his hand and sternly willed away the flashes of another woman and lifeless eyes staring back at him, he shoved down the guilt and regret. He pushed away the remorse an ANBU did not need. He pushed Kakashi to the back of his mind, ignoring how much the hold on his emotions loosened. Compartmentalize.

Their cover was blown. He could not hide any more. He had a reasonable amount of chakra though. Four kunai, two explosive tags, a meter of ninja wire. His balance was off a bit, but the ringing in his ears was slowly subsiding. No noteworthy injuries sustained. One comrade, unable to move. He’d have to carry him. Cat would be too tall for any of his summons after all.

Hound considered to search the corpse for weapons, but decided against it. They could be poisoned and he was not willing to take that risk. Instead he made two shadow clones who picked up the completely unresponsive Cat, each throwing an arm over their should and holding onto a hip. They moved in perfect sync and followed the original back the way they had come. They walked briskly, yet they didn’t try to catch up entirely. Hound stayed in the shadows as he rushed forward, he left a trail of corpses. Soon both his gloves were soaking wet.

As he ran and killed, his mind was racing. He could not use the main exit, they’d expect that. On his way in he had not seen another way out. But before he had entered the cave, there had been the distinct sound of a mountain spring. He could only guess, but if he was right the mountain wasn’t as high further south and with a powerful earth jutsu, he should be able to get to the surface in one go. Once he was out in the open the pack could help him. With any luck Bull was with Bird now and they were close by.

 

 

§§

 

Urushi moved along the trail quickly, but not openly. He followed Pakkun’s scent and since the pug had chosen to seek cover in the trees, he did the same. They were slower than on the road, but the lack of corpses meant that Alpha had changed his plan and Pakkun wanted them to catch up.

The three dogs were extremely tense. They could hear at least two enemy patrols moving. Judging by their direction they circled a designated area. As of now they would not cross paths, but that could change any moment.

 

Shiba stopped abruptly and with a pointed look at Bird and a low growl he split off. He was almost out of sight, when Urushi calmly adressed the ANBU.

“Pull your chakra tighter. There is a sensor with the Sound. Shiba tries to lure them away. We should reach Pakkun soon and then we can plan our next steps.”

 

Bird only nodded. He concentrated on his chakra, acknowledged that he had indeed lost his grip on it and stopped drawing on his reserves. All ANBU learned to suppress their chakra, they were supposed to be shadows in the dark, ghosts.

He remembered his lessons with Danzo. Strong like a pulsing river, hidden in a calm lake.

He couldn’t help but think of Kakashi. He hadn’t been impressive at all as a jonin teacher. Not weak, but too calm almost lazy, disinterested – non-threatening. He did not radiate raw power like the Lady Hokage or held his knowledge and experience over you like Lord Danzo. Bird had seen the Hatake fight during the war and knew there was plenty of power and wit hidden behind the facade.

He was curious if Hound was as fearsome as the stories said. After all Hound was a legend among ANBU of all villages. They compared him with the Yellow Flash or the White Fang, sometimes even with the Demon of the Senju.  It was a testament to his skills that those stories all dated back to the beginning of his ANBU career. In his later years, it is said that no one lived to tell. Only Team Ro and the clients saw him fight and they mostly agreed that they only saw a fraction of his real power. But those were only stories and Hound had retired.

 

Except – the Hokage had sealed his mask with Bird’s instructions.

Chapter Text

“It’s HOUND. They’ve sent HOUND. Get the..”

 

Kabuto ignored the shinobi moving past him. Their strength was in numbers. He did not care whether they lived or died. If he had an interest in any of them, it was the two sensors. One of which probably just died, the other was on patrol. It would be easy enough to recruit more shinobi for his cause. Orochimaru’s name alone was a great pull and if he offered the weaker rogue ninjas a place to stay, they would flock to him. He’d need them as a distraction until he gathered more promising corpses for Edo Tensei. After that they’d become little more than walking shields for him.

The ANBU of the Leaf though, they were intrigueing. He had invested too much time and energy in the mokuton to let him escape. Surely, there were more secrets to be found in his genetic code. After all this time, he never stopped obsessing over the Senju clan and their famed power. Hound was tempting in his own right. All those skills and experiences, he’d make such a valuable asset. If Lord Orochimaru had told him the truth about Hound’s identity, he would be even more valuable as a bargaining chip and then there were all the secrets he’d know. If it was true, Kabuto knew just the way to break the man.

Fortunately, if he caught them both, he could use their bond against them. Yes, all he needed was a good poison, some chakra seals and possibly a genjutsu. Lord Orochimaru would be so proud!

 

“Lord Kabuto...”

He looked down at his feet. One of his shinobi lay there, barely conscious and reaching for him. A deep cut marked the nape of his neck, only missed the artery by millimeters. Close enough to kill him anyway, deep enough to cut muscles. He could not remember the shinobi’s name. His panic did remind him of the backup plan though. He had no intention of digging his way out of tons of rubble. He could find the ANBU later. It didn’t matter if he got them dead or alive. Even if they survived, even if they escaped, there was another way. He just had to be patient. He had cast out his net long ago and he had enough blackmail material to get what he wanted.

Then again, he would not let them go without at least a threat. It was just his luck, that caves had a tendency to carry sound to the most remote parts. Time to have a little fun.

 

“Running away now? Your friend will be dead within hours without my antidote. I’ll get the Senju’s secrets one way or another. Don’t underestimate me, Hound. I can get to ANYONE. I know who you really are behind that mask.”

Kabuto smiled at himself as he turned around to leave the cave. ANBU were all somewhat paranoid. Surely they heard his voice resonating, travelling along the tunnels. If dealing with Tobi had taught him anything it was that a small moment of uncertainty would do, the thought would take root. Nothing worked quite as well as a quick mind and the experience to expect the worst. The vaguer the threat, the better.

 

 

§§

 

“Stop here.”

The dogs froze at the deep voice. Bird had a kunai in hand and was looking for its source. Before he found it, Pakkun emerged from a thick bush and promptly jumped onto Bull’s head.

Urushi let out a short bark, but Pakkun shook is head.

“Use your words. Where’s Shiba?”

“Distracting an enemy sensor. Did Akino-“

“Boss sent him back to Konoha. After Akino got hit with poison, Boss dropped Kakashi.”

 

Bird stood listening. It was surprising to see the subtle shift in the three dogs. Bull dropped is head a bit. He snuck a quick glance at Bird and then fixed his eyes on Urushi’s hitai-ate. Pakkun and Urushi stared at each other, almost as if they were argueing. It was Pakkun who looked away first.

“Hound used transformation to infiltrate the hide-out. That was almost two hours ago. The cave’s entrance is 500 meters east. For the last 20 minutes enemies came running out. Hound wasn’t with them. The last ones reeked of fear. They are unorganized and linger at the entrance.”

 

At the expectant look from the other dog, Pakkun bowed his head and added: “Urushi, call it.”

 

“Excuse me, why are you calling Kakashi-sensei Hound?”

Bird felt cold sweat forming on his back at the blank stares he received. He saw a dangerous glint flash in Urushi’s eyes. His whole demeanour changed. No longer did he feel strict but kind – now he felt merciless and deadly. Suddenly Bird dreaded an answer. He remembered his ANBU captain telling him about Kakashi.

Touch Kakashi’s pack and you’re dead. Pray for death, if he is in ANBU mode.

 

The ANBU never got an answer. He no longer expected to meet up with Kakashi, he did not know what to expect from Hound though. At least, the dogs seemed to know better.

“Pakkun, stay with Bird. Bull, rearguard. I need a better view of the landscape. Follow me – and Bird, keep your chakra tight.”

The pug obeyed quickly and took his spot on Bird’s shoulder. As Urushi ran ahead, Pakkun felt the ANBU hesitate. His small paw patted the ANBU’s head, just a little bit of comfort.

“Urushi knows Hound the best, trust his lead. Don’t worry, kid. We’ll complete our missions.”

 

An explosion shattered the tension in the air. They heard rocks falling, tumbling down, cracking open the ground, tearing down trees. A huge cloud of dust obscurred their view. People were screaming.

Bull broke the formation to sprint after Urushi and Bird hurried to follow him. He hoped for the dust to settle quickly, he could barely see Bull in front of him. Without the blue jacket, he’d have already lost him in a sea of grey. He was thankful for the small weight on his shoulder, he felt the pug hold on with chakra.

 

 

 

 

-----

I've been sketching a bit lately and I really liked how these two turned out. And since I sketched because I was thinking of this story it seemed only right to add it in.

Is this fine? I'm kinda obsessed about drawing him with the mask for now..

Chapter Text

Hound whirled around, his last kunai was stuck in the enemy’s skull. The ninja fell backwards with the force of the impact, but before his body hit the ground Hound grabbed the kunai and rushed past him. No time to double-check, no time to react.

Act first. Run on instinct. Trust in experience.

He felt the vibrations of the sound waves hit him before he understood the words. He knew that voice.

“...now? Your friend will be dead within hours without my antidote.”

White-hot fury overtook his mind. Kabuto. He wanted revenge. Kill him. Torture him. He HURT his pack, first Tenzo, then Akino! Hound turned around. He’ll crush him. He’ll make it count.

“I’ll get the Senju’s secrets one way or another. Don’t underestimate me, Hound. I can get to ANYONE.”

Hound snarled. He was a threat. He could not be allowed to live. Better end this now, before anyone else got hurt. Act first.

“I know who you really are behind that mask.”

Hound hesitated. He was staring into the tunnel that would lead him back to Kabuto. Attack head on or retreat. He could kill him, he was absolutely certain. But could his clones get Cat out on their own?

Then he heard steps. Careful light steps and something being dragged. His clones were approaching quickly. They smelled furious. They were tense. When they hurried past him, they growled.

“Not now.” – “Protect HIM first.”

 

...behind that mask. The only thing more important than the mission, protect your comrades. They had to get out first, treat Cat. The pack would track Kabuto. Pakkun had followed him to the cave. Urushi would be here soon. They would know what to do.

His revenge had to wait.

 

 

 §§

 

“So, we have no way to guess who’ll be summoned next?”

Tsunade sat on the couch with Akino beside her and the other dogs in front of her. Her hand hovered over Akino’s back for the final check-up. He spoke softly and it was obvious that it drained him.

“He won’t summon me. Guruko and Bisuke have no experience working with Hound. Hound will pick Uhei, Kakashi could go for any of them. But it’s more likely he’ll reverse summon Pakkun or Urushi for intel and possibly the antidote. We can only wait for his move.”

“In that case, I need the three of you in the best possible fighting condition. Akino, you need to rest. No guard duty, no helping in battle preparations. Shizune, I need you here. Keep an eye on Akino. Make more of the antidote, I’ll send a nurse with the necessary supplies. Until then prepare weapons and food pills. Fill water bottles, then seal all of it and give one scroll to each pack member. Also, copy those instructions and seal them with the antidote. You run the support line. One of the dogs can come and get me, if necessary. I’ll be at the tower. Maybe I can get some intel from the Mist. Alright, let’s do this!”

Bisuke barked happily at that. He was glad they had a plan and even gladder that one medic would stay with them. Even though Akino was acting calm and level-headed, he could clearly smell the anxiety under the facade. The Lady Hokage left after a final surge of green chakra that clearly relaxed Akino a little.

There was a moment of awkward silence. Uhei was the first to move when he got up to resume his spot on the roof, Guruko went back to the door and Bisuke stayed by Akino’s side. If he leaned into the bigger dog’s flank, it was only to shield him and obviously not because it calmed down both of them.

Shizune took a few minutes to let the dogs settle and take note on the layout of the house. The living room and the backyard seemed homely enough but any other room was untouched, covered in layers upon layers of dust. She couldn’t see any weapons, except for a broken tanto. The shattered blade was on display in one of the backrooms, next to an old tatami mat with a big brown stain. The White Fang.

She did not dare to disturb anything. She would send the nurse to get weapons and food later.

At least, she didn’t feel too intrusive setting up her stuff in the kitchen. She was relieved that the pipes still worked fine. The table was big enough for her use and even the fridge was still working. She was not surprised that it was empty. There were big bags of dried meat and dog treats in a corner, but no other food.

 

“Uhm, Miss Medic?”

“Yes?”

“Is it okay for Akino to sleep?”

Shizune smiled to herself and back in the living room she gave Bisuke a little pat. Akino had fallen into an uneasy slumber. She did her best to ease the lingering pain, forced tense muscles to relax. Akino was shivering despite his raised temperature.

Shizune was startled by a wet nose on her leg. When she looked down she saw Bisuke with a heavy blanket in his mouth. He looked up at her with the worry clearly visible in his eyes. At his whimper she took the blanket and drapped it around the injured pack member.

 

Cold-hearted. Merciless. Friend-killer.

If those people had any idea how Kakashi treated his pack and his friends... What a cruel reputation to have as a child., even now. She just couldn’t understand why the Elders kept bringing it up.

She remembered conversations in the middle of the night, when Tsunade was almost too drunk to speak. Years before they had come back to Konoha, she had always hated the ANBU system.

It was a death sentence.

In Konoha’s history there were only two people who left ANBU and lived more than a few weeks. Itachi Uchiha, who went missing nin. And Kakashi Hatake who went on to gain notoriety separate from Hound. But with the number of times he’d been called back into action, could you honestly claim he retired?

You can’t claim your soldiers are mentally stable when you stop the check-ups. Lord Third had looked the other way. An unstable ANBU would solve the problem himself. He’d die in action. They were taught to be proud of their skills. They were taught there was only one honorable way a shinobi could die.

Chapter Text

Hound was barely a hundred meters farther down the cave when he heard the explosion. The world around him was shifting. Rocks were cracking under the added weight and parts of the ceiling were breaking off. He wasn’t far enough south yet. It would be too much of a gamble to try for a direct way up. With the crumbling around them, any escape route he’d create would immediately be sealed again.

He almost missed the fast approaching steps in the overwhelming noise, but calmed down quickly as he recognized his own laboured breaths. The clones weren’t far off. Up was too risky, so he sprinted ahead, scanning the walls for any hints. Finally, 80 meters ahead, he could smell fresh water. It would have to do.

He staggered to a halt and dropped to the ground without missing a beat. He formed the signs as quickly as he could. He was already drawing up a huge mud wall, when the clones laid Cat down and started forming the same signs. Together they combined their walls to a dome just big enough to shelter all four of them. The ceiling caved in on them, raining down rubble at their jutsu.

They had to hurry, it wasn’t closed yet. They had to make it, they had to make it, they had to, they had to!

No!

Hound leaped forward to shield Cat and and braced against the stones raining down on him. He subconsciously relaxed as he saw the dome close completely, but with it the clones dissolved, having exhausted all their chakra and Hound couldn’t fight his body, he was engulfed by darkness.

 

 

 §§

 

Bird could hardly see two meters in the dust.

The ground wasn’t shaking anymore. The screaming had stopped, there were only a few pained cries now. It was nothing compared to the cacophony of sounds that had dominated his world a few moments ago. He followed the pug’s calm directions and noticed they were getting closer to the cries.

He almost collided with Bull who appeared to be waiting for them. The dogs growled at each other but didn’t bother to speak with him. When Bull lead them into the cover of the trees, he did not question it. The pug stayed quiet now, only tapping one paw or the other when he trailed off course.

Bird could hear people talking. They were searching for comrades, one called for a medic. Judging by their voices the dogs lead him around the group in a half circle. Bird had to suppress his own instincts to take command and take to the sky. He did not like following behind the dogs like a blind man. He had no real awareness of his surroundings. He had no idea where Urushi was and even Bull kept slipping out of his view.

“Stop. Hide.” – “Where..” – “Two branches up. Quickly.”

The ANBU jumped higher and found a branch with a lot more cover. He wondered why he had to hide with all the dust, but realized his mistake when a powerful wind jutsu blew it all away. Now he could see that they were only 10 meters from the enemy force, in one of the few remaining trees. His eyes snapped to his left where he saw Bull dive behind a large rock.

There were 30 to 40 people below them. Only three were injured, one of them was heavily scarred. He had thick red scars all along his right arm, it looked like an intricate net and - oh, probably graced with chidori.

 

In the general chaos one person seemed calm. He wore a cloak with a big hood. His face and body were entirely covered. His movements were strange though. As the ninjas spotted him, they flocked around him.

“Lord Kabuto-“ “-We didn’t know.” “But, Mayumi-“ “What happened?!”

“Hush.”

The group fell quiet. Kabuto moved through them, straight to the scarred one. He seemed to study the damage before he adressed the group again.

“All of you failed to notice a Leaf shinobi entering our hide-out. This shinobi did not only kill our comrades, he also rescued my prisoner. Mayumi gave her life to warn us. Now, I need you to clear the entrance. Bring me Mayumi’s body. She deserves a proper burial.”

Whispered affirmatives and nods were shut down by a raised hand. All eyes were on Kabuto.

“Hound might be still alive. Be careful in your search. Bring me his corpse, failure is not an option. And be quick, Konoha will send more ninja once they miss him.”

The murmur started again, they were arguing. Kabuto hissed at them, grabbing the scarred man again.

“Isss there a problem?”

The man was trembling, but he didn’t move away. He stole a quick glance at his comrades and then took a deep breath.

“Lord Kabuto, that man... I’ve never seen anyone as fast or precise. He’s a beast! We used the traps on him and he dodged it. Every time. Every last shuriken, every wire. We couldn’t corner him down there. How.. How can we do it now?”

Kabuto pulled the man closer to whisper in his ear, but Bird could not make out the words. He saw the man turn pale and stumble back to his friends. Kabuto’s voice was still as calm as ever, but it was full of an authority that no one dared to question.

“We dropped the entire mountain on him. He’s either dead or injured and exhausted. Bring me his body! Every last part! And the other one too. Now, hurry!”

They split in teams of three and got to work.

 

Half-way up the remnants of the mountain Bird could see Urushi. He was hidden from below, but apparently he knew exactly where they were. He started walking back and forth deliberately, while sometimes baring his teeth or wagging his tail. Bird figured it was some kind of code. After one last pointed jump south Urushi disappeared again.

Thankfully, Pakkun decided to share this time.

“Bull’s following the scent. Urushi has a hunch. We’ll keep an eye on Kabuto. Keep your chakra tight. Their sensor could return suddenly.”

Bird nodded. They split the missions then.

He understood why Kakashi kept a whole pack of dogs. They were incredibly useful.

Chapter Text

When Kakashi came to he had a splitting headache and he was surrounded by darkness. He could hear water dripping somewhere close by. Cold water. By his feet. His sandals were soaked and he had lost most sensation in his feet. He had a hard time moving over all.

The cave. Tenzo!

He searched the ground close to him and was relieved when he grabbed an arm. He tried to sit up more but had to clench his teeth against the constant shocks of pain pulsing through his body. He had really hoped he’d never have to experience chakra exhaustion again.

Anyway, Kakashi had no use for regrets or what ifs. Once he had enough chakra he’d summon A... not Akino. He’d think about it later. It was cold down here. His first priority should be to keep them warm.

He didn’t have the supplies to make a fire and he didn’t carry a torch. He could not just stumble through the dark. There was no other choice. Time to use that old trick he’d learned from his father. He brought his hands up in front of his chest as if to pray, but did not quite let them touch. He concentrated on the last bit of chakra still flowing in his system. A spark would do.

Eventually, a tiny flash of electricity started jumping back and forth between his hands. It didn’t grow weaker. He wasn’t exactly using the chakra, only moving it around. Father had been so proud when he had done it on the first try.

It was enough light to see across the dome. The far wall was wet and the dripping had to come from there. Judging by the footprints coming towards him, he’d started out at that wall. That had to be south then. The wall to his right looked reasonably dry. He glanced at Tenzo just a meter from him and decided he didn’t care about his dignity.

Kakashi crawled to Tenzo’s side, after he stopped molding chakra. It took an embarrassing amount of effort to move both of them to the dry wall. His body was still hurting all over and now it had started convulsing. He sighed in relief when he was finally leaning against the wall, sitting upright at last.

He knew he had supply scrolls on him, but he needed chakra to break the seals and he couldn’t risk passing out again. So instead he shrugged off his vest and pulled Tenzo from lying across his legs flat against his chest. His breathing was shallow, but steady. Kakashi rested one hand on his heart. The beat was too slow. His immune system had stopped fighting, no fever.

Kakashi swallowed hard. He could not lose him. Not again.

He tried to curl around his friend as much as he could. With his body shielding Tenzo from enemies and the cold alike, he started to drift off. He needed some rest to restore his chakra, but it was hard to let go without any real protection around them. Kakashi tightened the grip on his kohai.

He had to let go. Let instinct take over. Make way for Hound.

 

 

§§

 

Urushi found his way between loose rocks, carefully avoiding to move them. He was light on his paws, but he was not as small as Pakkun or Bisuke.

It was only a guess. He couldn’t be sure why Hound didn’t use the main entrance to escape. He could have been too slow, injured. He could have started emergency treatment on Cat. He may have found another way out, but why did Kabuto not send patrols to alternative exits? The enemy didn’t seem to look at a specific place, they searched the area at large and started clearing the entrance.

Maybe the explosion had surprised Hound. Urushi didn’t know how widespread the cave system was. But the why wasn’t important, the next steps were. It was difficult to maintain a sense of direction underground. The most logical way out was up. But.. Alpha probably heard the waterfall before he entered the cave and like Urushi he’d pinpoint the sound to the south. Following the sound and smell of water was easy enough below or above the ground.

If he was right, it would be almost impossible to find a scent trail. If he was right, Urushi could only wait at the side of the waterfall and hope.

 

 

§§

 

“Lady Hokage.”

Tsunade waved off the greetings and pleasantries. The messenger from the Mist was a young woman with long black hair hiding most of her face. She looked inexperienced, harmless even. Except Tsunade recognized her as Mei’s protegé.

Despite the call for an emergency meeting there were only two Elders present. They did not look pleased and Tsunade took a moment to acknowledge how tense they were. She addressed the room as a whole.

“Thank you for your patience. I assume Hisoka-san is on his way? We’ll wait for him. Get our guest some water and food. Please, take a seat.”

The chunin on guard duty disappeard, presumably to get the refreshments. Unnoticed by the Elders ANBU Cat also left her post and hurried to fetch Hisoka Hyuuga who most certainly had not heard about an emergency council meeting.

The messenger did not sit down. Instead her gaze was trained on the Elders who were squirming on the couch and avoided to look at the Hokage.

“Lady Hokage, my orders are clear. This intel is meant for your ears only. I mean no disrespect to the council, but those were Lady Mei’s words.”

Before Tsunade could respond Elder Utatane shot up with an angry scowl. She waved her trembling hand in a dismissive way.

“What would you know, child? We already know that you’ve found nukenin on your lands. Why should this concern the Leaf?”

Tsunade noticed the hint of killing intent rolling of the messenger. She was not waiting in parade rest, but had her hands hidden behind her back. A subtle threat from any competent shinobi.

“Elder Utatane, Elder Mitokado, wait outside until Hisoka-san arrives. And you – It’s Kasumi, isn’t it? You have until then to fill me in.”

The Elders left reluctantly. They could tell when they’ve lost. Kasumi waited until their slow steps were fading, before she addressed the Hokage again.

“We’ve discovered Sound ninja on the main island. So far they are merely hiding, they haven’t attacked anyone. We’re keeping an eye on them. Sensei wants to exchange intel on their leader, Kabuto. We might have to compare all his aliases to get a thorough view of his abilities. However, Lady Mei is prepared to rehabilitate the pawns, but she demands Kabuto’s death.”

“Agreed. This is nothing you’d need to keep secret from the council though.”

Kasumi pulled two scrolls from her bag and handed them to Tsunade.

“One of our Elders has been killed. When we searched the house we found these. One from the Sand and one from the Leaf. Sensei knows how to win against hidden threats. Read this. I’ll inform the Kazekage next. I’m willing to deliver a message from you, if you wish.”

“Thank you, but I know what Mei did. I’m not going to assassinate them. That’s not how things work in Konoha.”

Kasumi bowed respectfully. She held her hands at her side now, clearly visible.

“As you wish. Sensei did say old people ought to die at some point and no one would know more ways to make that happen sooner than a medic as skilled as you.”

 

---

Bit of me trying to sketch the ninken, that is totally new for me.

 

Chapter Text

The four ninken tensed simultaneously. They felt the pull on their chakra. It was a loose tug on all of them instead of the sharp yank they were used to.

“Bisuke, take the scroll and go.”

“Me? But..”¨

“Go, don't hesitate.”

Akino felt the pup’s eyes on him before he vanished in a puff of smoke. He saw Shizune coming into the living room and stare at the smoke in confusion, an unspoken question on her face. She had been working on more antidote for hours and Akino guessed that she had enough for two humans or four dogs. The nurse had been here to bring the herbs, but she had not yet returned with weapons and Shizune had refused to look through Alpha’s things. Akino was not sure when Tonton had come into the house and settled in by his side. Under different circumstances he’d be ashamed that he had allowed anyone outside the pack that close without waking up. As it was, Tonton was familiar enough and her warmth comforting. She wiggled closer and Akino caught himself almost slipping off.

“Shizune... We’re dealing with Kakashi for now, not Hound. He has very little chakra and his control is wavering. Probably close to his body’s limits.”

Shizune considered this for a moment.

“Why Bisuke? I didn’t think...”

“Kakashi didn’t choose, we did. It will cost him less chakra and he’ll need to send Bisuke back. Intel is more important than power now.”

Akino would have prefered to answer the summon himself. Most of the pain was gone, only a dull ache remained in his flank, but his mind was still clouded by exhaustion. His legs would not hold him up, much less let him run to Alpha’s side. He could be useful here though. He could keep the pack calm and take charge, let everyone have the illusion of an intact hierarchy..

 

§§

ANBU Cat entered the office in plain sight. She accompanied Elder Hyuuga who gave a curt bow to the room as a whole. They had made good time, taking the short-cut through the trees. ANBU Cat had been surprised by the old man’s agility. It reminded her of Lord Third’s fight against Orochimaru years ago. Hisoka Hyuuga had been a renowned shinobi in his time and unlike the other Elders she had seen him instruct chunin and jonin, easily dodging shinobi less than half his age. He might be the oldest in the room, but certainly not the weakest.

Tsunade handed Cat a scroll and dismissed her together with the mist messenger. They left through the window and ran alongside each other until they reached the eastern gate. There Kasumi dropped to the road and left the village openly, as an official messenger should. She set a quick pace, following the main road to Suna.

Yugao waited two hours in which nine people took the same road. Then she followed after Kasumi, concealed by the thick forest. If anyone sent a tail after her, they wouldn’t risk a longer wait. Yugao had her own suspicions regarding the Elders and potential moles, but so did the Hokage. It was not her place to act on a gut feeling and not within her abilities to understand the whole picture. She was a trained spy and by the nature of her job, she had only limited intel. They needed physical proof to do anything against the Elders. Hopefully, they’d take the bait. A lone messenger was an easy target and Kasumi had given them every reason to consider her a threat.

There was something about the way she moved. Yugao was almost certain they had met before, possibly in reversed roles. She had the skills to be an ANBU, no doubt.

 

 §§ 

When Bisuke materialized in a small dome, he was surprised. Alpha was leaning against a wall, lightning dancing between his fingers. He had Tenzo in his arms and they both smelled exhausted. Tenzo was so pale he looked like a corpse.

Bisuke approached slowly, unsure what to expect. Alpha looked at him intensely. Then the lightning disappeared as he dropped his hand to the ground. Bisuke bumped it and started licking the bleeding thump. It earned him some short pets that stopped when Alpha pulled the supply scroll from his collar.

“The antidote? Akino?”

“Lady Hokage and Lady Shizune made one. It worked on Akino. It’s sealed in there with instructions. Akino is recovering and Lady Shizune watches over him.”

Bisuke yelped in surprise when Alpha’s fingers moved through his fur again. Alpha smelled less tense and Bisuke was almost certain his eyes were crinkled in a smile. Alpha’s skin felt cold though, the scratches had none of their usual precision. Without any orders to guide him, Bisuke crawled onto Tenzo’s lap to try and warm him. Tenzo did not react at all, he felt even colder. Alpha sighed deeply.

“Keep up your guard, Bisuke. I need a bit more rest. Try to warn me if anyone comes close.”

With the hand cluchting the scroll loosely drapped over Bisuke Alpha drifted off. Bisuke stayed where he was. He could barely make out his surroundings, apart from Alpha and Tenzo. There was no light down here, it was pitch black. It was scary and Bisuke was the only one alert. Never before had this happened. He had always had another pack member on guard with him. Akino had sent him though. Akino had chosen him, not Uhei, not Guruko. Alpha hadn’t seemed concerned or irritated by it. It would be fine. He could guard them. He would. It was his turn to watch over Alpha for once.

 

§§

Pakkun  shook out a violent shiver which earned him a raised eyebrow by Sai. The young ANBU had sealed away his mask and the armor that would give him away as a Konoha ANBU. He had traded in protection for agility. The lack of armor also made it easier to disappear into thin air whenever the sound shinobi came close to their hiding spot. At the moment, there was no one within earshot.

“Kakashi is alive and conscious, but low on chakra. He summoned a packmember, probably from Konoha.”

Sai nodded at that. It was reassuring, even though it hadn’t even occured to him that Kakashi could be dead. He should have included that possibility in his contingency plans. He had been in Root long enough to accept and expect death. Maybe Naruto’s optimism had rubbed off on him. Maybe it was because Kakashi Hatake was well-known as a genius, the strongest of his generation. Maybe it was just wishful thinking. If he made it back from this mission his friends might be willing to help him figure out these confusing feelings.

For now he had to complete his mission. The sound ninja had been working to clear the cave entrance for hours and they were making good progress. He had not spotted Urushi again and judging by the lack of commotion the enemy had not run into Bull or Shiba. Kabuto had set up a tent and disappeared into it. It made Sai uneasy that he couldn’t see him, but Pakkun had assured him that he was still in there.

Chapter Text

Kakashi startled awake because someone elbowed him. He drew in a sharp breath, suppressing a cough. Tenzo was convulsing in his arms. Kakashi was quick to slide out underneath him and break the seal on the supply scroll. At least, using his chakra no longer felt like boiling water cursing through his veins. In a cloud of smoke the content appeared. He scanned the items in the cold white light of electricity dancing between his fingers. Bisuke tapped a small vial and a piece of paper.

“Lady Shizune said to inject it into a major vein. Or directly to the heart like an adrenaline shot.”

Kakashi frantically searched for a needle. He could not find one. He needed a needle! Unless... but even medics only did that after years of training. He wasn’t sure he had that kind of control.

Silent. Too silent. Tenzo wasn’t moving anymore!

He abandoned the scroll. His hands flew up to Tenzo’s throat. Nothing.

He brought his ear to Tenzo’s chest. There! A pulse, a fast panicked... No, that was his own heartbeat. Or was it? But Tenzo’s chest did not move at all, he wasn’t breathing!

He wasn’t... Tenzo! Quick, he had to think. CPR, steady rhythm. Hard enough to move the sternum, not too hard though. A broken rib could puncture the lungs. Steady, steady.

Bisuke jumped away from the two men. There was nothing he could do. Alpha would take care of it. Alpha knew what to do. But he wanted to help, there had to be something.

He couldn’t see anything in the darkness, he only heard Alpha moving and begging for Tenzo to stay with them. If only there was a way to bring Lady Shizune... He picked up the antidote, putting it down right beside Tenzo’s head. Alpha made an acknowledging sound but didn’t take it. A needle. Akino had said to get the antidote and a needle if there was no time to explain. Bisuke pawed at all the items, but nothing had the right shape.

 

“Breathe, please. Tenzo. Damn it! You can’t... I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. I need to... I’ll try. Forgive me, I have to try!”

For a second the dome was bathed in bright light. Bisuke could see the sweat glistening on Alpha’s brow. His eyes were wide open, a few stray tears collected in the corners. Both his palms were on Tenzo’s chest and sparks of lightining were pushed into the unresponsive body. Then Alpha removed his hands and the light disappeared. Bisuke heard two weak heartbeats before Alpha did it again. And again and..

“Boss, stop! It worked.”

Kakashi’s hands still hovered over Tenzo’s chest. His chakra pulsing around them. He dropped his head down, listening intently. His own pulse was still loud in his ears, but much slower and weaker he heard a second one. He sagged down in relief, but he had no time to waste. He grabbed the vial of antidote. Another quick scan confirmed his suspicions that there was no needle. He had to improvise.

“Bisuke, come here. Remember the expansion jutsu? Use it to get to around Bull’s size. I need you to hold me upright.”

The ninken concentrated on the jutsu, closing his eyes to better visualize the size he wanted. When he opened them again Alpha was kneeling on Tenzo’s left side, instead of straddling him. He had taken his gloves off and put his vest under Tenzo’s head. He was breathing heavily from the exertion and stress, but seemed to calm down slowly. Bisuke recognized the breathing technique he’d taught them years ago. His breaths were deepening.

There was still a bit of electricity jumping from one finger to another. His other hand was on Tenzo’s forehead. A kunai with an especially thin tip lay next to the antidote. Bisuke approached with much louder steps than usual. He nudged Alpha’s shoulder and when the man looked up they were eye to eye. A bit of the tension left Alpha and he leaned into Bisuke. The ninken was glad that he could now take the weight without a problem.

“Stay right here. Help me keep this stance. If I do pass out, make sure I don’t fall on top of him. Once I’m done, I need you to keep him warm and guard us.”

Bisuke knew that Alpha was far from calm. He had forced his body down from an adrenaline high and whatever he was about to do, he did not seem confident. It scared Bisuke. He had never known Alpha to hesitate or doubt his decisions on a mission. Urushi had even told him about a few ANBU missions with incredibly bad odds, but this was different. He could smell the fear rolling off him in waves.

If Lady Shizune was to be believed, the antidote was strong and should take effect quickly. Bisuke hoped that Alpha would not pass out. Under different circumstances he would never risk it. They were in enemy territory after all. But then again, Alpha would never abandon pack.

Tenzo’s hearbeat was weak but steady for now. Kakashi finished his silent prayer and pulled Tenzo’s left arm into his lap. He carefully rolled the long sleeve up until a handwidth above the elbow. He suppressed a surge of emotion at the subtle reminder that his kohai had copied a lot of his habits, including the preference for baggy clothes. He reached for his med kit and soaked some gauze in strong alcohol to disinfect the bend of the elbow.

Kakashi drew in a long breath and let himself be assured by Bisuke’s warmth along his left side. He had to risk it. It would be fine. He trusted his pack.

Then he took the kunai and precisely nicked the biggest vein, careful not to cut through it entirely. Blood sluggishly seeped out, before his right hand finished signs in rapid succession and forced the blood back inside in a jutsu usually used for waterboarding prisoners. He poured the antidote slowly onto the elbow and forced it into Tenzo’s body. His hands trembled with the effort. It was incredibly difficult to use such a violent jutsu for this delicate matter. It was much easier to use in one forceful eruption than this steady slow trickle. Applying enough force to push the blood back towards the heart, while doing so softly enough not to burst blood vessels. He was glad for the weak resistance from Tenzo’s heart. He doubted, he could do it otherwise.

The edges of his vision began to darken and Kakashi closed his eyes. He swayed forward, but immediately felt teeth close around his shoulder. His eyes refused to open again and his chakra was almost gone. He felt the tension leaving him, no longer able to force his body to go on. But he needed to close the cut, at least bandage it. His movements were too slow, uncoordinated as he fumbled with the bandages. Then he felt something thin and rectangular in his fingers.

“Band-aid.”

Bisuke’s voice was muffled by Kakashi’s shoulder and if he hadn’t been right next to his ear, Kakashi wouldn’t have heard it.

Kakashi tried to put on the bandaid, but exhaustion claimed him once more. He felt his hand being pushed down by Bisuke’s paw and allowed himself to let go. Somewhere in the back of his mind he knew enemies would come looking for them and he had to move.

He needed only a few moments, only until his head stopped spinning and his stomach settled. Only until he could swallow a soldier pill without throwing it up. Just a few minutes...

Chapter Text

The sun would set soon. The days were getting shorter as they reached the end of summer. The warmth still lingered though and it was a welcome mercy to Pakkun and Sai who were still hidden on a tree.

The sound shinobi had lit a fire. They were cooking with the supplies they had salvaged so far. It smelled good, a stark contrast to the soldier pills they’d had earlier. There were still search parties on their way all around the mountain. Some shinobi kept digging and removing rubble. They had carried out several corpses and stripped them of their weapons.

It almost seemed as if they were sleeping. Their clothing was intact and Sai couldn’t spot any broken bones or limbs at weird angles. There was little blood to be seen. Many wore high collars as it seemed to be their casual wear, so it took Sai a while to realize all their throats had been cut. A quick death, immediate silence. No chance to alert others.

The next corpse was different. It was a woman. Slender and short, her eyes wide open in shock. There was a gaping hole where her heart should have been. Blood covered her grey dress, but only the front. She must have laid face-down. She wore a metal object around her neck that reflected the crackling flames as they gently laid her down. Seven corpses from within the cave, another eleven retrieved when they found their lost patrols. All of them were arranged neatly next to the fire. Once in a while a shinobi would stop to stare at a corpse, but none dared to linger.

“No...”

Sai turned in time to see Pakkun leave their hiding spot. The pug jumped down the branches and hid in a thicket on the ground. Sai stayed in his spot. The thicket was not big enough to cover him. He scanned their surroundings. There had to be a reason. Something to upset Pakkun. His heart sank when he saw it. They had found Bull.

The shinobi were carrying the unconscious dog out of the cave. Sai could make out a long cut across his flank and burnt flesh on his back. Only an idiot would use fire in an enclosed space... or someone who had been surprised and panicked. At a closer look one shinobi had torn clothes, possibly torn to shreds by sharp teeth.

“Get Lord Kabuto. He’ll know what to do.”

One shinobi ran towards the tent while the others dropped Bull and bound his legs. The injured man kicked him a few times, but stopped when he was satisfied that Bull really was unconscious.

When Kabuto appeared he ignored the scene entirely and went straight to the blood covered corpse. He examined her wounds. He looked at her face even longer and with a gentle touch closed her eyes.

“Bring her to my tent. She deserves a second chance. You! Build a cage for this dog. I want him out here in full view. Keep your eyes on him at all times. Bind him tightly. No food, no water. Don’t kill him yet. Bring me everything he carried. Set a nightwatch. When Jiro comes back he has to report immediately. DON’T tell him about Mayumi. I will do that. Get rid of the other corpses before you rest.”

Sai tensed at once as his branch moved. He drew his kunai and was met with an unimpressed stare. Shiba tilted his head in question and Sai settled again. Why could they all sneak up on him? It was both impressive and nerve-wracking. Maybe he could ask to train with them in the future. He gestured to the thicket below them and after a quick sniff, Shiba nodded.

They waited in silence as the woman’s corpse was carried after Kabuto. They could not see Pakkun underneath them as the last light of the day was fading quickly. Soon the only remaining light came from the cooking fires and the bright flames of corpses burning in a pit. A foul smell filled the area. The shinobi moved slowly as if all energy had left them at nightfall.

Sai felt his own exhaustion creeping up on him. They had to decided on a guard rotation. Shiba mustered him for a moment.

“Sleep. We’ll g..gu.. We’ll keep watch.”

 

 §§

“Homura, Koharu. What’s the meaning of this? You started questioning a messenger without Lady Tsunade present and then you did not inform me of an emergency meeting. Like all Elders vow when they are sworn in, I remain in the village at all times specifically for emergencies like this. I demand an explanation.”

Tsunade watched silently as Elder Mitokado and Elder Utatane shrank back in surprise. Ever since she had appointed Hisoka Hyuuga as an Elder, he had never once raised his voice. On the contrary, he had tried to mediate between Hokage and Elders. Tsunade was glad to see that he was still the passionate man who used to trail after Tobirama and discussed ways to optimize guard rotations and squad assignments. These days he had a calm facade ready for anyone who approached him without ill intent. Tsunade had chosen him for this reason, but also for the undisputable expertise any ex-ANBU possessed. Even more so an ex-commander.

She had read it by accident once when she had searched for Sakumo’s file shortly after her inauguration as Hokage. The other Elders shouldn’t know and they wouldn’t even think of it. One of the last rules uncle Tobi had established was to forbid the Hyuuga and Uchiha from serving as ANBU. The death rate had always been high and the chance of losing a kekkei genkai too risky. When the third Hokage had changed the rules for Shisui Uchiha’s benefit, Hisoka had been too old to rejoin. He had shared his knowledge with his lone student though, Sakumo Hatake.

“There was no time...”

“No. I’m not talking about a delay. I’m accusing you of intentionally not informing me at all, Koharu! I’m here now, because the ANBU on guard read between the lines and fetched me.”

Hisoka waited. His stare was unwavering and his stance spoke of barely contained anger.

 

 §§

“Tsunade told you to rest.”

Akino did not move to acknowledge Shizune. He just remained on his spot on the roof and watched the main entrance. He had finally convinced Guruko and Uhei to sleep. They had been too tense to notice their own fatigue. In this case it was understandable though. He had promised to alert them of any danger. After sleeping the whole afternoon he felt much better. No more real pain, just soreness. The antidote was working fast, he’d probably be fine if he rested another day or two.

“I am resting. As you can see, I’m not moving, just keeping watch.”

“I’ll keep you company then. I want to be awake when Tsunade returns.”

Chapter Text

Darkness. Complete darkness.

Water dripping? And that... was that someone breathing? It was barely audible. He could be wrong.

The temperature was weird. He was cold on his right side, but warm on his left. When was the last time he had been conscious? He had been in a lot of pain, unable to move.

Danzo! Lord Danzo had found him and treated his wounds. That’s why he felt better. He had to pull himself together. Root did not feel pain. Root did not question authority. Lord Danzo had saved him before, when he had been left behind to die. Just another failed experiment. He should be grateful. The least he could do was complete his mission.

But first he had to assess the situation. His head was throbbing, but not to an extent that was impossible to ignore. His limbs were heavy and stiff. It would take at least an hour to gain control over them. He could breathe fine. He had a little chakra, enough to hit and run.

He had no way to explore his surroundings, so he kept listening for any changes and started systematically tensing and relaxing his muscles. He had to get the blood flowing again. The faster he could move the better.

 

§§

In the deep forest, far away from any roads, Yugao watched the three shinobi fight. Or rather, she watched as Kasumi toyed with her attackers. They had chosen the break of dawn to ambush her.

Yugao almost pitied the two chunin. She recognized them as ANBU rejects from a few years ago. Hound had been called in to test them. He had called them arrogant and inattentive, not able to adapt. Back then she hadn’t seen it, but today the arrogance was obvious. Never once had they checked their backs, assured by their role as pursuers. An unforgivable mistake, one that could cost the lives of an entire team. It reminded her of Hound’s unbreakable rules as captain. The captain should always be the rearguard. The wounded set the pace. Any sensor type should remain in the center of the formation. Any team member should know basic medical jutsu.

Of course, the worst mistake had been that the chunin underestimated Kasumi. They had expected a simple messenger, chunin-level at most. It was not an unreasonable assumption given their intel. But to Yugao it had been obvious she was deadly as soon as she saw her run. Every move had a purpose, precise and small, no wasted energy, but fluid and effortless. It was not a natural way to move, but a trained and perfected skill to conserve energy. Additionally, the chunin were at a situational disadvantage – Mist shinobi were used to fight with compromised vision and well trained to rely on their other senses. A rookie mistake.

Yugao watched as the chunin struggled. They didn’t work together. It didn’t even occur to them. Kasumi kicked them around with taijutsu only, easily avoiding their earth style. She was obviously enjoying herself, maybe she’d be up for another game?

Yugao quickly dropped to the ground behind the chunin. For a few seconds she removed her mask to wink at Kasumi who tilted her head more than strictly necessary to avoid a kunai. Yugao smirked, the stage was set. With her mask firmly in place again Yugao attacked in a barrage of shuriken. The chunin recognized her mask and fell back. Yugao and Kasumi engaged in an exciting spar, katana versus kunai. They clashed once, twice. Then Yugao kicked her hard in the stomach. Kasumi allowed herself to drop to her knees and when Yugao pretended to knock her out, she went limp.

There was not a second of hesitation as Yugao turned her back to the seemingly unconscious Kasumi. She put her sword away and adressed the chunin.

“Debrief me. Elder Utatane sent me to assist you. There was no time for explanations.”

“Grandmother ordered us to kill the messenger and bring back whatever she carries.”

Fools, no shinobi should trust another that easily. She waited, silently prompting the shinobi to tell her more. They might actually be related to Elder Utatane. At least they wore her family crest.

“...She said to hide the body? And that the Sand could not be trusted and that they were plotting against us.... Also that the Hatake could be involved and we should keep this secret since Lady Tsunade seems to have a soft spot for him.”

The older man groaned and smacked him.

“I apologize. My brother gets carried away sometimes. Thank you for your assistance. Should we dispose of the body?”

Yugao nodded at him.

“I’ll search her. You make the grave, make it deep. Hatake’s pack trains close by and we don’t want her body to be found, do we?”

Once the two men were out of earshot in their search of soft ground, Kasumi blinked up at her. They had a hushed conversation as Yugao carelessly went through her pockets.

“That was fun, can I kill them now?”

“No. Traitors are an ANBU’s duty.”

“Go on then, I’m kinda in a hurry.”

“In a minute. They’ll have their grave ready soon.”

Kasumi rolled her eyes at her, but went limp again and waited.

 

Yugao approached the hole silently. The chunin were slow in their work and Yugao immediately realized why. They were arguing.

“But granny said that the Mist Elder was killed by the Mizukage! Why would they send a messenger at all? She was way too skilled for that.”

“Don’t be dumb! Granny never tells us everything. Father said our spies killed the Elder because he wanted to reveal our connections.”

“We have spies in the Mist?!”

“He never said anything specific. But yes, something about a political marriage and a debt to be repaid to Lord Danzo.”

“But Lord Danzo was killed in the war?”

“Yes. Now shut up. They don’t know that. Keep digging.”

 

There was no more chitchat after that. They didn’t seem to know much anyway.

Yugao waited until they finally jumped out of the hole. With one swift slice she cut their heads off.

“Kasumi, I can carry your message to the Kazekage. You need to report home.”

The two women quickly searched the bodies while exchanging intel. There was nothing noteworthy. Finally, Kasumi handed over the scrolls from the Mizukage and Hokage.

“I trust your abilities, Miss Anbu. Or should I call you Yugao? We’re not at war. I see no need for pretense.”

Yugao laughed at that.

“I recognized your chakra once you entered the Hokage tower, Hunter-nin. Recently made captain, I believe.”

“Touché.”

Chapter Text

“Boss, wake up. Tenzo just moved.”

Bisuke gently pawed at Alpha’s shoulder. He would prefer to let him rest longer. He had noticed Tenzo twichting a while ago, but it had not been violent and his breathing had remained calm. This time though Tenzo had moved his hand with purpose and briefly touched Bisuke’s leg.

Alpha came to slowly. Bisuke kept nudging him and finally resorted to licking his hand until Alpha pulled away. He then pushed of the hitai-ate and let it clatter to the ground. Bisuke could hear him slap himself completely awake.

“’m awake. Tenzo? Tenzo can you hear me?”

Bisuke had to suppress a yelp of surprise when instead of moving to Tenzo’s side Alpha draped himself over Bisuke and blindly grabbed at his leg until he found Tenzo’s hand. He could feel Alpha’s chest moving. He was worried by the shallow breaths and how strained they sounded. His hand had been trembling and suddenly it occured to Bisuke that maybe Alpha couldn’t stand up. Maybe his body had reached its limit.

Kakashi went boneless on top of Bisuke. His warmth was comforting. A few minutes. He could be allowed a few minutes of comfort. His body was pain. One big mash up of varying degrees of pain. Every move hurt, his muscles were burning. He’d imagine it felt similar to opening the inner gates. But he had endured a lot of pain in his life and he could endure this. It was nothing compared to the agony of losing another loved one.

A tiny twitch reminded him that Tenzo was probably awake. Maybe not able to talk, maybe not even alert enough to listen. But he could explain anyway. The poison had most certainly messed with his mind and facts usually helped. Any kind of intel really. Even if it was only a familiar voice.

“Bisuke. When I send you back to the house, tell them to prepare a torch. If Akino is better... I need him with me. Guruko and Uhei are not strong enough and I will need help with Tenzo. I’m sorry Bisuke, but if Akino is not an option I’ll need you back here. With your expansion jutsu, you’d be a big help. I also need Uhei to lead a medic to the tower. Akino can describe the route and we need a good medic. A really good one, maybe Shizune? The antidote seems to work for now, but I really shouldn’t move him more than necessary. I’ll try to... no, I will keep everyone alive until she arrives. We’ll have to trust Sai and the others with Kabuto.”

He didn’t want to leave them alone. Someone had to keep watch and Alpha needed rest as much as Tenzo did. But Bisuke knew Alpha wouldn’t budge on that front. Alpha was the worst at taking care of himself. Good thing pack looked out for each other and covered for another’s weakness whenever needed.

“Boss? There was water and food in the scrolls too. It’s only bread and dried meat, but it’s better than food pills.”

“Release your jutsu. I’ll send you back now. Debrief quickly and then rest. I can give you an hour. I’ll try for Akino after that but you can jump in if necessary. Understood?”

Almost the moment Bisuke was in his own small frame again, he felt Alpha’s chakra engulf him and send him away. For a split second he could feel the pack’s chakra. Distress, exhaustion and pain. So much pain he couldn’t breathe.

 

With Bisuke gone Kakashi flopped to the ground next to Tenzo. Adrenaline was a bitch. It kept you up and running for quite some time, but you paid for it later. It was like borrowing stamina from your future self. Hound had been helpful, but he had used too much chakra. A raikiri, when breaking the sensor’s neck would have been just as fast. Using precious stamina to run back at Kabuto’s taunts, instead of pressing on and find another way out. Hound had run on adrenaline and power reserves the whole time. Back when he’d still had the sharingan drain his chakra, he would be dead already. Chakra exhaustion was one thing, but using up every last bit was basically suicide.

Ironically, he had died that way once before. Even if it had been only a short talk with his father, he had learned their secrets at last. The one truth father couldn’t have told him, when he was a kid. The reason he’d made him wear a mask. The reason he had suppression seals hidden on his throat and collarbone. White ink that no one would see. Invisible against his naturally pale skin. It was the reason he had not yet opened the Nidaime’s scroll.

They were sensors. Too finely attuned to the chakra in the world around them, too sensitive. Unable to process the flood of information. So they had shut it off in the past. Father had found a way to use only a fraction of it. Enough to give him an advantage, not enough to overwhelm him. It was a gift and a burden at the same time. He didn’t need to learn how to sense, he needed a technique to filter the information or to slow down the intake at least. Father had found a way. If the Nidaime had really been the strongest sensor ever born, he would know about that part too, right?

There was no use thinking about the possibilities for now, he wouldn’t risk it. Instead he focused on what he could do. It wasn’t difficult to find the water bottles and meat by touch and smell. He sipped on the water and was immensely thankful when he noticed the weird after taste of calcium or magnesium, possibly both. It would help with the cramps. He forced himself to drink slowly, but he’d really rather gulp it down. He hadn’t noticed how thirsty and hungry he was until now. He had to pace himself, his body was too worn down. He didn’t want to throw up.

He had a few soldier pills left, but he had used them too freely. Whatever the Akimichi put in there, it worked perfectly. But they warned anyone against using them for longer than two days. He was on day three.

 

Kakashi groaned when his head was slammed to the ground. Someone was holding him down and an arm was pressed against his throat. It was disorienting, but there was only one possibility.

“Where am I?”

“It’s fine, Tenzo. I got you out.”

“WHERE AM I?! And who are you?”

“Ease up..”

Kakashi had a hard time breathing with Tenzo’s weight atop of him and Tenzo was almost crushing his windpipe. He brought his hands up, but couldn’t properly grab the arm, much less move it. Tenzo softened his hold a little at that. He must have noticed the lack of strength and considered him less of a threat for it.

“Answer, now.”

“We’re trapped in a cave. I’m Kakashi Hatake and the Hokage sent me to rescue you... Come on, Tenzo. You know me.”

“Don’t call me Tenzo...”

Kakashi relaxed at that. Tenzo’s mind was fine after all.

“..my name is Kinoe.”

Or not.

Chapter Text

“Guruko, get Lady Tsunade. Uhei, get Lady Shizune. Bisuke, tell me about their condition. We have no time to waste.”

Bisuke started with Alpha’s instructions anyway. Alpha had asked for a medic and even with as little experience as he had, Bisuke knew something was off. He suspected that Alpha needed a medic for himself. He described in detail how he had used lightning on Tenzo and passed out from exhaustion after forcing the antidote in. He also told Akino about his suspicions that Alpha had been too weak to stand up. He ended on Tenzo’s steady state and the small movements. Bisuke mustered Akino for a second before he added that Alpha wanted him by his side if possible. He looked away sheepishly before admitting he’d rather go back himself since Akino’s hindpaw was trembling subtly.

 

It was too damn early to get up and it did not improve Tsunade’s mood when she found Bisuke and Akino growling at each other. They were staring each other down. Uhei and Guruko were observing, but not interfering. Eventually, Bisuke was the first to look away. Only then did they acknowledge the human.

“Lady Tsunade. Kakashi asked for Lady Shizune and Uhei to head out for the old tower. It is shortly behind the Mist border, still within the old borders of Fire country. I can give detailed directions to Uhei later. Yamato seems to be stable for now, but Kakashi does not want to move him farther than necessary. We should assume that Kakashi himself we’ll also need a medic. He’s been pushing it for too long. The other pack members are supporting Bird. They will track down Kabuto in Cat’s place. In 40 minutes Kakashi will summon me. He asked for a torch. They are trapped in a cave.”

Shizune didn’t wait for orders. She was already off to get properly dressed for a mission. Uhei followed after her, ready to carry whatever she’d hand him. He knew there weren’t any torches in the house, but there was an oil lamp in the guest room.

 

“You’re still recovering. Akino, does it have to be you?”

The slight hesitation before he fixed her with a cold stare was the only hint of his physical condition Tsunade would get from him. He was not at a 100%, everyone knew it. But that was the point, Kakashi knew as well and he still asked for Akino. Tsunade had seen Kakashi in bad conditions before. She had been amazed a few times that he had returned on his own despite blood loss and obviously painful wounds. She had seen wounds sealed with fire, an efficient option to avoid blood loss and infection. It was not something many shinobi could pull off. Only those accustomed to pain could hold their hands steady enough to avoid further damage. She had seen countless scars on him. She knew how much experience he had with stitching himself up and handle the pain. When she looked at Akino she saw the same stubborn defiance that drove Kakashi out of hospitals as soon as he could move.

“Yes. Kakashi needs to preserve chakra.”

That was not the only reason. Akino saw no need to elaborate though. Kakashi was protective of all pack members, but especially the pups. They did not have the necessary experience to deal with their Alpha wounded to this degree. Alpha was good at compartmentalizing but in order to do that he needed a pack member who could read the subtle signs. He needed someone who could react to his improvisations. They didn’t know the status of Pakkun and Urushi. Same problem with Shiba. That really only left Akino. He was ready to accept the pain of a freshly healed wound reopening. His pain would increase their chances of survival. He would give it his all and it would be enough, it had to be.

 

Tsunade let out a loud sigh. She kneeled down at Akino’s side. There was no time to argue and the pack knew Kakashi best. She’d like to go with Uhei herself, but she was needed here. She could no longer ignore the Elders. For now Hisoka would keep an eye on them. But she needed proof quickly and she needed Gaara’s answer. This was a scandal to taint her own name and it wouldn’t matter to her. If she left it to the Rokudaime, to Kakashi, then his time would be filled with suspicion and fear, multiplied tenfold by his secretive nature. Even though it was not common knowledge which mask had been Kakashi’s, all the older shinobi knew he had been in ANBU for a long time. People got suspicious whenever a prolonged absence of a skilled shinobi matched up with new rumors of ANBU missions. There was a saying among the hidden villages - You’ve made it as a shinobi once there are rumors that you are ANBU.

“I approve of the plan, but I don’t like it. Bisuke, go and rest. You did well. Akino, there are a few things you need to know. Only tell Kakashi if it becomes relevant. I need him as focused as possible. You tell him, his mission is to survive and keep Yamato alive until Shizune reaches them. I won’t tolerate failure.”

 

 

§§

His breathing was erratic. He was kneeling on the ground, using his weight to hold his enemy down. He had just knocked him out and was not yet certain that he wasn’t faking it. His own pulse was thundering through him. Too loud and too fast for the exertion. He shifted his weight to check Cat’s – no, Kinoe’s pulse. He managed half the motion before his legs cramped up violently.

Hound rolled off the other man and onto his back. He tried to stretch against it. Careful, not too forcefully. He didn’t want to risk a tear. He closed his eyes and braced himself. He had to wait it out. There was nothing he could do about it, except distracting himself. He listened intently to any change in Kinoe’s breathing, with nothing else to hold his focus he started counting his breaths.

Approximately 10 minutes until he could summon Akino. He needed Akino. Kakashi couldn’t handle the situation anymore and Bisuke had never worked with Hound before. A voice in the back of his mind insisted that he should let Akino rest. He growled lowly. There was no alternative. He had not enough intel to summon any of the other experienced dogs and he needed Uhei to lead the medic.

When the cramps subsided he decided that he couldn’t wait longer. He gathered enough blood from his split lip and slammed his hand on the ground. He was thankful for the foresight when Akino appeared with an oil lamp already lit, but dimmed behind cloth. He could smell worry roll off his companion and traces of antiseptic. He was still recovering, but he had answered the call anyway.

Akino put down the lamp. The situation didn’t look good. The dome was stable for now, but there were several cracks at the highest part. Tenzo was unconscious, his knuckles were bloody and by the smell of it, it was Alpha’s. Equipment was scattered all around them. Indications for a fight. There were also the blood stains on Alpha’s mask. Probably a broken nose.

It was cold, but that was to be expected in a cave. Tenzo was wearing the sweatshirt from his usual uniform. It would keep him somewhat warm. Alpha’s clothes on the other hand were torn up badly. The shirt would fall off him with the first forceful move. The thin undershirt would not be sufficient to conserve his body heat. The gloves were gone and Akino could see the hint of blue around Alpha’s fingers. They had to move now, before Alpha would get too stiff.

 

“Akino, news?”

At least Alpha’s voice was steady but it was laced with pain he’d normally hide. Akino was ready to report, but stopped in surprise. He took another sniff. It was faint, he was absolutely sure though. He knew that scent.

“I can smell Urushi. Get up! This could be our only chance!”

Chapter Text

Urushi felt the ground vibrate with a strangely focused force seconds before he saw Alpha emerge in a cloud of rubble. He did not miss the muffled grunt, nor the jolt of chakra that hit him. He had to move Alpha to cover. If the patrols were anywhere close by they would surely come here to investigate. Maybe they would think of a further cave in, if the area was empty.

“Activate the seals! Quick!”

He approached Alpha. His chakra was spiking, it visibly jumped off his skin to disappear into the ground. Within seconds the impulses returned and the man flinched at every single one, trying to avoid them. Urushi lunged at Alpha and used his momentum to force him down onto the ground. Alpha’s eyes were shut tight and he refused to open them. Urushi growled and kept nudging his neck, until – finally – a trembling hand pushed him away. The ninken saw the faint glow of the seal activating again. With every heartbeat tension bled out of him.

Urushi gave the hand a small lick and backed off to look for Tenzo. He was relieved to find his scent mingled with Akino’s. He waited for him to climb out of the narrow tunnel. At least for the last bit he could help pulling Tenzo out of the hole. But Urushi did not let them catch their breath. Instead he dragged Tenzo into nearby thickets where he curled up next to him and shielded him against the cold breeze.

Akino got the hint. He trotted back to Alpha who seemed more alert now. At Akino’s repeated nudging he stood up. Even though he swayed a little, he made it into Urushi’s small hide-out without further difficulties.

The dogs watched in surprise when Alpha pulled out ninja wire to bind Tenzo’s hands. His own fingers were trembling and Urushi wondered whether it was due to simple exhaustion or because he had overused lightning techniques. Akino’s sharp shove made him look up again – just in time to see Alpha school his features back into indifference. Urushi had never been so glad to see Hound appear.

 

 “Lady Hokage approved of your plan. Uhei and Shizune left shortly before you summoned me. They should make it to the tower by nightfall tomorrow. I brought more antidote and other supplies. If we run out, you can summon Guruko or Bisuke. Your current mission is to get yourself and Cat to the tower as quickly as possible and keep both of you alive until Shizune arrives. The Hokage will not tolerate failure.”

Akino’s update was quick and brief. Urushi would have loved to get the details of the plan, but getting Alpha and Tenzo to rest at the tower was all he needed to know for now. Akino turned towards him with bared teeth and Urushi understood, they would take the lead. Alpha was in no shape to fight. They needed a distraction. He growled to get Alpha’s attention and waited for tired eyes to focus on him.

“I can take care of the patrols. Akino, lead them as directly to the tower as you can. Hound, I need you to carry Cat. Take a soldier pill if necessary. You need to reach the tower before nightfall. I will coordinate with Bird and the others. Under no circumstances can you use the seals, understood? The risk outweighs the benefits. Trust me to handle the enemies.”

Hound nodded at that. He crouched down low and accepted the two dogs hoisting Cat onto his shoulders. It was not a comfortable way to carry someone or be carried, but it was necessary for Hound to keep hold of Cat’s hands. Just in case.

 

 

 §§

 

Sai startled awake. Something had set off his instincts. It was almost daybreak. Maybe an hour after the coldest part of the night. Dew was clinging to his skin and he stretched a little, still unsure what had woken him.

The camp looked quiet. There were two guards on a make-shift platform. A man named Jiro who Shiba had confirmed to be the sensor from earlier and another taller man who had neither spoken nor be spoken to. The additional weapon pouches could be a hint for a long range fighter.

Sai squeezed his eyes shut. The blinding brightness disappeared quickly, but reappeared just as fast. This time he caught a glimpse of blue and maybe a hitai-ate?

 

Then a loud howl filled the night.

Goosebumps crept along his skin as Sai heard the ninken join in. He heard the first howl again, louder and more aggressive. Then Pakkun was next to him. The pug looked him dead in the eye and howled. Sai was baffled. They had just lost their advantage. They had given away their position.

“Howl. Answer the pack.”

“But..”

Pakkun growled at him.

“We’re done waiting. Hound and Cat are retreating. It’s time to attack. We’ll get Bull back. Move with us or hide alone. The pack moves as one.”

 

It was awkward and Sai was certain he did it wrong. They had been a great help so far, a steady force. Their howls might sound angry, but they were also determined. When all the howls came together something in Sai responded to it. This was art in its own way and when he joined in, he let the excitement wash over him.

ANBU were patient. They waited for the perfect opportunity. ANBU worked alone most of the time. But in this moment Sai understood why Yamato had told him to drop out and become a regular jonin. ANBU was a place to bury emotions and rely on intellect alone. It was not a place to find camaraderie or trust. This was different. This was Hound’s pack and they offered him a chance to join, even if it was for one mission only.

So Sai howled and the pack responded in kind.

 

 

§§

 

Hound ran behind Akino as fast as he could. He was already slowing down. His body was screaming at him to rest or at least drop the additional weight. Every step took effort. But he followed Akino’s lead, it was easier than coming up with an alternative.

He had noticed that Akino slowed down ever so often to run by his side and check on him before he took the lead again, keeping a steady pace, silently urging him on.

It was Hound who quickened the pace when the howling started. His pack was preparing to fight and he could not join them. It was their version of a battle cry, one they had used in their early days before they had trained themselves into shadows, before the sharingan. Hound resisted the urge to run back and punish the enemy for challenging them. He wanted to fight with them. But Akino was growling behind him, keeping pace without hesitation, effectively blocking the way back. They were fighting to cover for him. They were attacking to concentrate the enemy’s force in one place. He would appreciate their effort, he would use the opportunity they created. The pack was strong and his most experienced ninken were working together.

He would trust any of them with his life. He was grateful when Akino pulled ahead again, seemingly satisfied that he wouldn’t stray from their plan.

Right now, Akino was his whole world, body and mind too tired to focus on anything other than the reddish fur and blue jacket.

He blocked out the sounds of battle, couldn’t feel the weight on his shoulders any more, nor the sudden jolt as his fingers cramped up. He only saw the ground two meters in front of him and the paws that steadily lead him forward. One step after another. He’d follow him anywhere.

Chapter Text

I'm sorry, but everything will be delayed. At this point I can't say how long.

I've been in a car accident. I'm mostly okay now, but aggravated an old shoulder injury. I'm on pretty strong pain meds and can hardly type with my right.

This story is close to my heart and I try to keep working on it whenever my mind isn't all foggy. Luckily, I'm left-handed, so I can do first drafts. Revising is asking too much though. I'll have to wait.

I'm sorry to keep you waiting and am thankful for everyone who is willing to wait. Next time you'll hear from me it will be an actual chapter update.

Chapter Text

“What happened?!”

Kabuto shouted over the chatter. His shinobi did not pay attention to him. There was a myriad of voices talking over each other. Some were hardly whispering, others flat out shouted.

“Wolves?” – “..Where’s the dog?” – “Wait, so he turns into a Hound?” – “Shit!” – “...definitely a human howl.” – “Just some wild wolves..” – “Everybody CALM DOWN!” – “If it IS Hound’s pack?! They know no mercy.” – “HE’S GONNA MURDER US!” – “They say he can possess the dogs.. sees through them.” – “Isn’t that a Yamanaka thing?” – “Heard he tortures people for fun” – “..not blond. From Konoha though.” – “..lightning nature. Simply fries your pathways.” – “..so the bulldog? Only knew of a husky..”

With a frustrated roar Kabuto slammed his chakra into the ground, cracks formed and rumbles shook the rubble around them like an earth-quake. The chatter rose in volume, before it died down. The camp fell quiet, all eyes on their leader.

Kabuto rose deliberatly slow, he fixed them with his sternest look. When he spoke, he refused to raise his voice.

“All of you act like a flock of brain-death sheep. – They’re just ninken. You are shinobi. A few dogs shouldn’t be a problem. Regroup and get me those dogs. I don’t care if you kill or capture. I want all of them unable to fight and their bodies here in the center of the camp. Since all of you believe the ghost stories about Hound, I’ll have to face him myself. Lure him out, bring him here! – You can do as I say or you can be the next sacrifice.”

Only now did the shinobi recognize the woman who stood behind Kabuto. It was Mayumi. Her skin was as ashen as before, but now it seemed cracked like dry earth. Her eyes were almost completely black and with her bats swarming around her, she reminded them of a shinigami. She did not show any emotion, simply waited for instructions. She finally moved at Kabuto’s dismissive gesture towards the shinobi.

“Lead them.”


 Urushi didn’t wait for the enemy to move. He was alone on the south side, hidden between the rubble of the cave in. Akino had lead Kakashi far enough away. Now he could risk detection. They had a few different attack plans usable in this surrounding. For the moment they needed to split the enemy in manageable groups, preferably no more than three shinobi at once.  Most importantly, they had to separate the two sensors. Sensors guarding each other’s blind spot were a menace, almost impossible to sneak up on them.

He howled as loud and fierce as he could. His was the howl ANBU and nukenin had come to recognize. His was the howl that had announced Hound. His howl meant Hound had dropped his cover – so no one would be allowed to live.

Immediately different howls joined him. Once again they came together into their battle cry. He stood alone in the south, but the others had moved to form a half circle facing him. There was only one voice missing.

The kid was adapting well. Pakkun was proud of Sai for taking the initiative without prompting. He had observed the pack in their short time together and had found the best way to contribute.

The pug himself did no longer answer Urushi’s howl. Firstly, he wanted Urushi to lead the attack. Secondly, he knew he was the only pack member small enough to use the sparse cover the rubble provided in the camp itself. He was thankful for the nervous energy which made the shinobi less vigilant and he could clearly find Bull’s position by following his relentless howls. With any luck a chakra-enhanced bite and tug would be enough to free Bull. It was only a make-shift cage after all.


 Jiro stood frozen as he saw his little sister shout commands. She had always been on the small side, but she seemed even frailer now. The thin black cracks were the worst part, they destroyed any illusion. She should be dead. There should be a gaping hole in her chest. Instead she stood next to Lord Kabuto and organized the search without question.

His sister wouldn’t do that. She second-guessed everything. They had joined Lord Orochimaru out of necessity, not because they cared about him or his cause, not because they believed his promises. He shook his head violently. His sister was dead. Kabuto just used her body like a puppet.

His head snapped around, a small burst of chakra had caught his attention. Jiro was surprised to see a pug tearing apart the iron cage. He blinked repeatedly, but the image did not change. He was startled so badly, he simply watched as the pug lead away the injured bulldog. They moved carefully but quickly, slipping into the cover of the forest eastwards.


 Shiba saw the male sensor follow after Pakkun and cut off his path. He gave off an intense spike of chakra as he ran.

A kunai almost hit him. It plunged deep into the tree beside him.

He recognised the chakra touching his own – and he didn’t. It was a little more intense, a little bolder and broader. Not as precise as a needle – not like yesterday when he had lured that shinobi away from Sai, Pakkun and Bull.

Think fast. He had attracted one of the sensors, arguably the more dangerous one. He howled, no matter how much it hurt his throat.

Then he ran to the south, away from his injured pack-mate and vaguely towards Urushi. He’d know what to do.


 Sai worked as fast as he could. He wished he had more supplies. He’d have to pillage the enemy at this pace. While he didn’t mind, it was time-consuming.

It felt weird to sneak away from the battle itself, but it was what he could do. His scrolls were scattered around him. One wolf after another rose in black ink, some accompanied by a distorted image of Hound in ANBU armor. Psychological warfare Pakkun had called it.

In the current commotion chances were high the sound shinobi didn’t pay close attention to the sky and the huge ink hawks dropping Sai’s clones at well covered spots where they set up the standard traps every Konoha ANBU knew. Finesse wasn’t necessary, time was of the essence.


 Jiro was conflicted for the three seconds it took the shell of his sister to rush after the grey dog whose chakra had distracted him. Both of them dashed towards the mountain.

Although he switched back to follow the bulldog and the pug quickly he could barely see their blue jackets. They were heading north-east into the rolling hills. Bad move, good for him though.

He focused on the pug, confident the bulldog couldn’t outrun him, but the dogs were fast and Jiro resorted to explosive tags to cut them off.

The amount of dust was incredible due to the aftermath of the mountain’s destruction. Jiro did not care, he pressed on relying on his sensing abilities to follow the chakra. An angry bark made him turn right, spotting the injured bulldog much closer than he’d expected.

He landed before the dog, upper-body halfway through a mighty slicing motion when the world shifted. Something pierced his right ankle and pulled him into the ground. His knees buckled and instinctively he used the motion to switch from a slice to a throw and let go of the kunai. When he looked down, he stared into tiny black eyes. The pug didn’t give a single inch, not bothered at all by the blood dripping onto him.

Even though Jiro felt the chakra build up on his left, he was trapped. He could not move in time, all he could do was brace for the impact. He really should have used a clone, he had gotten careless. There was another forceful tug, his leg now buried to the knee in the ground, he lost all balance.

Of all things, why a fireball?

It was pure reflex that made him form the three signs for a small windjutsu.


 Shiba howled one more time. He had no plan and there was a sensor on his heels, followed by another four or five shinobi.

Even if all he personally could do was lure them farther away from Bull and steer clear of Alpha’s route, he would keep going. They had to take out the sensor first, they could not put in the extra effort to sneak around her for the whole battle. At least there was potential to use the rubble. Shiba ran towards Urushi’s last location without an idea what to do. He trusted he’d recognize any action Urushi could possibly take.

The wind had changed abruptly. From here on out Shiba had to rely on his ears. Occasionally, he had to dodge shuriken, but his fur blended well with the dark grey rubble. He had gained about 10 meters on them, mostly because he had taken to the mountainside where he had been ducking into passages far too narrow for humans.

Momentarily the sun disappeared in the shadow of an overly large bird. Shiba remembering their young ANBU’s codename moved along with the shadow and moved even closer to the steep incline to his left. Within seconds the rubble around him moved, covering everything in a dense cloud of dust. Shiba heard surprised shouts and curses. Then he heard coughing behind him. The dust had not yet settled, but he could see the silhouette come closer. Before he could decide on a reaction though, a second smaller silhouette jumped at it. The coughing turned into incoherent gargling.

Shiba caught a whiff of Urushi’s scent and moved towards him. Sensor! He barked in warning. If he could smell the sensor through all the dust, she had to be close!


 Sai fell upon the woman from the sky. One swift slice of his katana was enough to cut her in two neat halves, the blow was only stopped by the ground.

The violent fluttering of paper warned him to jump back as her body reattached itself. Edo Tensei. A technique that made it basically impossible to kill her, but they had expected something like this.

Sai dodged the bats swarming around him, trying to bite at him. Interesting. They were summons, yet they still accepted her, even though with her death the contract had been fulfilled.

He needed some distance to prepare his jutsu, but how to distract them...

He flinched when Shiba and Urushi came barging in by jumping over his shoulders, they each snapped a bat in mid-jump. They could buy him a minute. He was not a master at sealing, though his knowledge should be enough to deal with a shinobi of this caliber. If it weren’t for Edo Tensei he would have killed her six times already, without breaking a sweat. He was easily faster and she had too many openings. It was almost like an invitation.

“NOW!”

Urushi suddenly charged at her. Sai did not understand his command until he saw Shiba emerge from underground. He bit her arm, effectively stopping her hand signs as Urushi charging at her turned into a rock and his real self emerged next to Shiba to hold down her leg.

No questions asked, Sai finished the seal. The ink rose in elegant swirls and wound tightly around her to engulf her like a mummy. The dogs let go of her limbs. They immediately started digging close by. If they could not kill her, they would keep her immobile.


 The sensor couldn’t breathe, but she no longer had to. She could neither see nor hear anything. She could not die and she could not follow her orders. She could only sense. So she did.

The three enemies were moving quickly. They split up and stopped at different signatures. Shortly afterwards those chakra signatures burnt out. She tried to follow their movement mentally, but eventually lost them.

She could sense chakra, but she could not differentiate between friend or foe. She could tell that any signature lagging behind a bigger group disappeared. She could also tell that two strong signatures were at the edge of her range – one leaving and one approaching.

Chapter Text

He could hear slow steady breathing, not the harsh breaths and rustling leaves from hours ago. He was no longer being moved. As he got more alert different memories were swirling through his mind, small glimpses he could not quite combine to a coherent image.

Lord Danzo was healing his injuries, easing the throbbing pain, but he still felt numb and his limbs refused to move. He felt helpless and wanted out, he felt caged. Lord Danzo reprimanded him for failing and reminded him of his mission and its importance. He was to assassinate Kakashi Hatake – a traitor to the Leaf.

He remembered stalking out a group of rogue shinobi. Their hide-out was a cave underneath a plain-looking mountain, hardly high enough to be considered a mountain. His jutsu had broken, forcing him to drop out of the bark. No longer concealed within a tree, the enemy had spotted him immediately.

They had captured him... somehow. He felt shame and resignation. He had expected his death. But then one of the guards had come into his cell. An unfamiliar face, barely old enough to be called a man. He had looked nervous, weak, harmless. When he started speaking, he recognized the voice and the hand signs accompanying his words were definitely ANBU. He tried to follow them but couldn’t, the fingers moved too fast and something had compromised his vision. Then the face changed. A mask, unruly white hair. He didn’t have a name for the man. – He knew he was safe with him though.

There had been a mission. Was he still... a very important mission... Killing someone or.. no.. Keep track of someone. Hokage said... what did he say? Wait no.. not he. Lady Tsunade?! Yes, Lady Tsunade had sent a rescue mission, but he had been freed already by Lord Danzo. Someone had moved him here, he must have been captured again.

 

His head hurt badly. It was hard to ignore. At least he could move his limbs, even wiggle his toes. He opened his eyes slowly, luckily there was little light to blind him.

From where he was lying on what felt like a make-shift bed in the corner of the room, he could spot several small windows high up on each wall. It was dark outside. The room was lit sparsely with dampened moonlight from his right and an oil lamp directly at his feet. It was difficult to make out more than a few shadowy silhouettes farther away. On the far left was some kind of big opening, though it didn’t seem to lead outside. Maybe an adjoining room, or a staircase. He couldn’t tell if he was on ground level or above. What he could see out of the window did not help. Tree tops and stars only implied he wasn’t underground. He’d guess the room was about the size of the Hokage’s office. He’d better take a closer look.

It was only when he tried to get up that he realied his wrists were bound and chained to the wall behind him. The bonds were long enough to comfortably stay in bed or stand up, but he couldn’t get more than five steps away from the wall. Quickly he decided to sit down again and examine the shackles, but was interrupted by a menacing growl.

“What’s your name, shinobi?”

He stopped picking at his bonds as he saw a big dog step into the soft light from the lamp. Should he attack? It felt wrong though and he almost recognized the dog. Like a word stuck on the tip of your tongue, he knew the dog was familiar, although he could not decide whether it was an ally or a known enemy.

“You had sunglasses? Something is off.”

The dog relaxed slightly and nodded in approval. He looked like a husky, but that felt wrong too.

“Good. You remember something. Now, your name?”

He squinted at him. He recognized the dog, why could he not remember his own name? Should he even tell him that? It really didn’t matter though. There was nothing to hide.

“I’m not sure. I think I have several names.”

The dog waited for him to continue and only moved on when it became clear he wouldn’t.

“You are ANBU. Of course you have different names. What about your mission? Can you remember that?”

The ANBU tried to remember, but all that came to mind was putting on a porcelain mask. Then it switched to a scene of picking up the pieces of a shattered dog mask, but it was not his? While he blinked the memory away he looked back at the dog and in his mind added sleek black sunglasses to his face. He could picture the dog barking in excitement and then he was running away as fast as he could. There were other dogs running around him too, suddenly he was pushed back towards the husky by a tall man. The memory somehow didn’t show a face, only one eye crinkled in quiet laughter.

Something moved in his peripheral vision and he turned to the big opening. Eventually he succeeded in squinting hard enough to make out the silhouette of a sleeping person. The moonlight reflected a little on white hair. For some reason he expected a tattered green blanket with shuriken on it. But it would have been impossible to see from his spot anyway. The human moved again, this time he could hear a pained groan.

He wanted to help! White messy hair, dogs and pain, years of pain. Even if his stupid brain didn’t make any sense of it, his instincts were certain. That man was important and he didn’t want him to suffer.

He was stopped dead in his tracks, as his chains rattled. He had no more slack to move forward. The husky growled at him again, teeth bared and as tense as he could be.

“He is hurt. Let me help!”

The dog did not move the slightest. He kept staring at him, trying to block the view of the man. The dog clearly didn’t trust him and the ANBU didn’t want to fight him. Both the dog and the man felt too familiar. His gut told him that the husky was only protecting his pack and that was the right thing to do.

The ANBU dropped back down on his bed. His head hurt, he was still tired and all those different memories didn’t line up. He heard the man whimper and groan in pain, but somehow he knew he was still more asleep than alert. He just.. knew.

“I promise, I won’t move. Please watch.. Hound.”

He didn’t know whose name it was. His, the dog’s, the man’s.. but it was one of theirs and it had the intended effect. The dog backed off and instead of guarding him, he went to nuzzle against the unconscious man’s side.

The ANBU could tell those eyes never left him, even though the right one should be blind, so he tried to appear as calm as he could, focusing intently on his breathing and sinking into his meditation. His efforts were rewarded with a longer memory this time.

He was in a big house. No, the Hatake estate. The white-haired man stood in a living room. It felt abandoned except for the half a dozen dogs lazying around. The ANBU saw himself bent over to scratch the ear of a greyhound. The dog was just about to start drooling.

“I didn’t expect to find you here, senpai.”

That was his own voice, rough from exhaustion though. When he looked up the man did not react at first. He kept staring at the door in front of him. When he spoke it was quiet and in a strained carefully controlled tone that didn’t feel right coming from him.

“Did you know that this is one of just 19 houses that weren’t destroyed by Pain? All those years, I’ve wanted to burn it down and... exorcise my ghosts. But I could never convince myself to do it and I – Maybe it was always meant this way. Maybe I should move back here. I could stay with the pack. I could. I think I’m ready to let the legacy of the White Fang rest. I’m ready to bury Hound. Maybe I could go back to be just Kakashi, Sakumo’s son... I’m sorry, Tenzo. I’m being selfish, aren’t I?”

Chapter Text

Hound came to slowly. It was as if he had to wade through hip-deep mud. His muscles were burning, he could already feel the cramps building up. He had startled awake several times during the night. Each time Akino had guarded him. Years of practice and trust had allowed Hound to remain in the semi-awake state which still allowed decent recovery, but he had been barely alert enough to gently stretch against the cramps. He really hoped they would be done soon.

Next to him he felt the warmth of a large body. Hound appreciated being guarded this closely and was not surprised to find Bull as his impromptu mattress once more. When he opened one eye he saw Akino curled up at his feet. Urushi had to be close by too, judging by his nose.

The pack was mostly relaxed. Hound drew in deep breaths and with each exhale he let go a little more of his control. He was no longer needed. There were no enemies.

“Status?”

“It’s late afternoon. You were out for almost 20 hours. We’re at the old tower. Urushi is on guard. We have enough food to rest here for 2-3 days. Water supply is secured. There’s a well in the basement.”

Kakashi leaned more heavily onto Bull, letting the familiar sensation calm his mind further. He gave Akino a small nod to continue.

“The pack had to split up. Urushi and Bull came here to help with Tenzo. Although the enemy force has been reduced to an estimated eight shinobi, Kabuto still managed to flee. Pakkun and Sai encountered a messenger from the Mist and teamed up with her to pursue Kabuto. Shiba is on his way to the Mizukage to deliver the kunoichi’s message.”

Urushi must have been listening, because he approached just in time to add necessary details. Akino took the hint and resumed the guard post. Kakashi was surprised to get a lap full of usually not cuddly dog, but he was still cold and Urushi’s weight helped him to focus on the present.  He was technically awake, but his brain felt overloaded like the night before he had taken the chunin exam and absolutely refused to make a single mistake, resulting in a last minute study session all through the night.

 “The kunoichi?”

“She called herself Kasumi and she can’t be a simple messenger. She is highly skilled and potentially could have killed us in a surprise attack. She was on her way back from Konoha. We believed her since we could smell Konoha’s soil on her. She met Yugao and together they fought off an ambush by traitors. Details are not relevant now. We decided to believe her and work together. She knows the country best and is leading the pursue. Her only condition was to deliver a message to the Mizukage. Shiba volonteered. It should be safe to summon him back in a week, no earlier.”

Kakashi tensed at that. They were allies now, but he had fought many shinobi from the Mist. He had killed and captured some. Once he had been captured, in his starting years, when he had blindly thrown himself into ANBU. That had been the time Hound was truly born. He had forced himself to disconnect from his body. Mind over body. It was still the worst torture he had ever experienced. Itachi’s genjutsu had not even come close. The thought of Shiba in their hands, helpless to do anything but.. Kakashi had almost bitten his tongue back then – but Hound had remained focused and alert. Hound had found the weakest link and exploited it.

“I can’t let Shiba go there...”

The whisper was barely audible and entirely involuntary. He flinched in shock when Urushi growled at him.

“Get your priorities straight, Kakashi! Or let Hound back in. – What is your mission?”

Kakashi was absently petting Bull as he took long deep breaths. It was just the exhaustion. Anxiety was starting to override his logical thinking. His emotions were too close to the surface, ready to burst out any second. He had to put a lid on it. Focus.

“Keep everyone alive until Shizune arrives. Failure is not an option. Is anyone injured? And how is Tenzo?”

This time it was Bull who answered him.

“Minor injuries, all of them can wait until Shizune arrives. You don’t have any chakra to spare, Boss. We might need you to wrestle down Tenzo though. The antidote works. He’s getting stronger physically.”

Akino hesitated a moment before chiming in from the other side of the room.

“He came to five times. The first time he couldn’t move yet. The second he tried to attack. The third and fourth he simply observed his surroundings. I talked to him. He seems to remember fragments, but is confused how they fit together. He couldn’t tell me his name, but he knew Hound. I believe he knows you are important but can’t decide in which way. He remained quiet afterwards and didn’t attack. The last time he helped by unsealing a supply scroll. His sleep is unsteady now, maybe the antidote has worn off.”

Kakashi looked around. He had used this tower for shelter before. Father had told him about it and frankly it was absurd that Konoha had abandoned it. It would have made a good training ground with all the mist hiding it. For now, he was worried about his pack. He saw Akino dragging his hindpaw as he walked over to Tenzo’s side. He saw burnt flesh across Bull’s back and immediately shifted his weight back against the wall. He caught Urushi’s gaze and tried to decide if any of the dried blood in the normally tan fur was Urushi’s.

He had two soldier pills left. After the rest he’d gotten, his body could probably handle another one with only minor side effects. It was a matter of timing. He could not handle a second pill, so he had to use the 2-4 hours he could get out of the first one wisely. In his current state he couldn’t fight much. His hands were shaky and his leg muscles might tear if he strained them more. It happened to Gai once and even with Tsunade’s help it had taken him months to recover enough to go on missions.

 

“Give me some space, please. I don’t want to zap you.”

He knew the ninken didn’t approve. Them moving anyway meant they had come to the same conclusion. They had to know, they needed a time frame. If Tenzo decided to attack, nothing would hold him back. He didn’t have chakra seals or reinforced chains and there was little the ninken could do against a ninja of his caliber. Of course, Kakashi knew how to fight him and win, but it would be difficult without an element of surprise.

His fingers found the edge of his jawbone where it almost touched the ear. A small jolt of chakra undid the seal. Within seconds everything became much clearer. He heard the soft trickle of rain, quaking frogs and a bird he could not name. No sounds of battle. He dropped his hand to find the second seal in invisible white ink across his collarbone. The tattoo shone brightly, before the chakra jumped off in wild sparks.

Kakashi tried his best to control where he sent his chakra. All across the tower, vaguely up to 500m in perimeter and a bigger flash towards home, following the path he had taken with Akino. He could not specify exactly which information his chakra would bring back.

If he were to believe Tobirama’s scroll, water nature sensed differently. Water would allow a sensor to spread his chakra slowly and stay connected to even the farthest part, enabling the user to pinpoint the direction of his search. It also meant it was slow to travel the distance and since it demanded immense concentration it would be hard to use in battle. Unless you were Tobirama Senju and trained yourself vigorously to make sensing second nature, therefore instinctive instead of distracting.

His own lightning nature was almost the opposite. Sensing had always been second nature to him. Electricity didn’t remain steady, it was meant to spring from one thing to another. It was constantly in motion and as long as there was any water or metal around, it would keep moving. The challenging part was calling his chakra back in. He didn’t know how to do it, other than switching from repelling his chakra outwards to attracting it all back inwards. With the speed he received the information almost simultaneously, it was hard to differentiate and process.

Kakashi groaned in pain as the incoming impulses hit nerve ends and triggered even more cramps, before entering his chakra pathways. He was glad there were only a few animals nearby. It meant less information, less to sort. His head started pounding and he tried hard to focus... Rivers, trees, a lone merchant, fertilized bird eggs, a boar... Uhei! That impulse felt like a beacon among all the information. Familiarity in a sea of unknowns. And there was Shizune a step behind him. They were moving quickly, less than three hours away.

Chapter Text

Hisoka Hyuuga lived with his grandchildren. Years of ANBU had taken its toll and he actively sought out social interactions even though more often than not he remained a quiet observer among the everyday chaos. He took it upon himself to look after injured family members and often used the time at their bedside to teach them techniques and battle strategies.

He preferred teaching them before they got injured though. It was quite normal to find him in the backyard training with a family member. He made a point to spend most of this time with his great-grandchildren, since he could rarely tolerate the reckless youths outside of the discipline he demanded while training.

Sometimes he enjoyed it, sometimes it was just another duty. Today he was reluctant to end the lesson. Hanabi was a quick-learner, almost as hard-working as Neji had been.

Hisoka hoped for everyone involved Hanabi would become the next head of the family. The Hyuuga were strict in their traditions, but Hisoka could think of a loophole or two and Hinata was not cut out to be a leader.

“Grandfather, you are not watching.”

“I apologize. Your form is excellent, Hanabi. I’ll find you a sparring partner for tomorrow. Now, if you’ll excuse me. I believe ANBU Fox came to summon me.”

The ANBU moved out of the shadow of the tree top and landed in the backyard soundlessly. He bowed to Hisoka, politely waiting for the Elder to set the pace. They left right away.

Hanabi watched them body-flicker along the roofs, but lost sight after a while. There had been a lot of meetings lately, including another rushed one like today. Hanabi tried to ignore how her gut twisted in discomfort whenever she thought of Hinata. Her sister had been gone for weeks. She did not know the details of her mission and she sincerely hoped there were no bad news.


Tsunade was fuming. Suspecting treason was one thing, but actually confirming it? She read the scroll one more time. Yugao’s message was short, but none the less damning.

Two members of the Utatane clan ambushed the Mist messenger. They were eliminated. They hinted at spies in the Mist who possibly killed an Elder. Kasumi is heading back. I will deliver her messages to Suna and bring back the Kazekage’s answer.

She had to take action. Normally, she’d talk it through with Shizune, but with her most trusted advisor gone, she had to rely on the second tier. She needed another opinion, a second view. She was well aware how much she contempt she harboured against Utatane and she could not risk being blind-sided by her bias. After sending off Fox to fetch Elder Hyuuga, she arranged for one of the Chunin guards to get Elder Utatane.

There were seals on the office to keep whatever would happen concealed.

Just in case, she sent for Ibiki too.


Elder Utatane answered the Hokage’s summon at a leisurely pace, not slow enough to justify a reaction, but slow enough to make a point. She had organized a mission or four to gather more intel and she’d much prefer to stay in her house where she could access all her files to widen her view about the bigger political picture, possibly find some loose strings to exploit.

She was a sworn in council member though and council meetings were an excellent source of classified intel.

When she entered the Hokage’s office she didn’t bother to knock.

It was still hard to believe Tsunade was the last survivor of the noble Senju clan and the blood line would likely end with her. Koharu had known many Senju. Lord Hashirama was responsible for the village’s existence but also for the ever declining numbers of his kin. His example had inspired the other Senju to become shields for their teammates or distractions for the enemy, resulting in many deaths.

“You summoned me.”

 

Tsunade gave a curt nod and instead of offering the Elder a seat, she moved closer. She was angry, but it was not her short-tempered bouts of aggression, it was the hot white rage that only ever appeared when she was fighting for another’s sake.

“I’m tired of your intrigues, Koharu. Out of respect for uncle Tobi and sensei I have turned a blind eye for too long. Do you think I don’t know how often you and Himura undermined me? Do you think I don’t know you wanted Jiraya in my place, because you thought he’d be easier to control? I knew from the first day. I tolerated you anyway. But you went too far now! I received proof, definite indisputable proof, of your treason. Do you have anything to say for yourself?”

 

Koharu scoffed at that and rested both her hands on the walking cane she carried everwhere. It concealed a short blade she had used since her youth. She shook her head slowly, using that moment to gauge whether Tsunade was bluffing.

“I would never commit treason. I love the Leaf.”

 

Tsunade gave her a stern look before she turned around to close the blinds. When the door shut with a click Koharu turned her head ever so slightly to catch a glimpse of Ibiki before the discretion seals activated with a low buzz. She felt an intense gaze on herself and turned her head in the other direction where Hisoka Hyuuga stepped out of the shadows with his byakugan active.

“Your ambush failed. Your shinobi are dead and were quick to talk. Unless you come clean, Ibiki will have a heavy workload with the size of your clan. Starting with your sons and if need be, we’ll go on all the way down to the youngest.”

Koharu suppressed a shudder. She would have taken it as an empty threat from Tsunade, but the pale eyes of Hisoka spoke of cruel honesty. The mist messenger had killed her grandsons already. She wasn’t keen on losing more, so she settled on the only strategy left.

“I’ve been a council member since Hiruzen’s inaugaration. Everything I did up to this very day has been for Konoha’s benefit. I might have been a babe during the warring states era, but I still knew the stories and pain of war. I know the importance of power. Danzo and I were strict and sometimes cruel, but only because Hiruzen was too soft! He could never be the strategic genius sensei was. Neither could you, Tsunade! I only did what you couldn’t!”

 

“We are allied with the Mist! Your actions could have sparked another war. We are closer to long-lasting peace than ever. With a new generation of Kage who fought side by side against Kaguya and shinobi in all villages tired of fighting... Everyone wants peace!”

Tsunade’s temper flared up instantely. The old hag spoke in tongues again!

 

“I want peace as much as anyone, Tsunade. But politics were never this simple. You don’t understand the risks of change. As for the next Hokage, I’ve told you before Kakashi can not be trusted!”

Suddenly Koharu deflated, looking every bit the frail old woman she was. Hisoka kept his gaze on her, watching her chakra flow. It was obvious she had once strained her chakra pathways far over her limit. The damage was irreversible and she could no longer use chakra except for her left arm. With her main chakra supply cut off, not even that could do much damage.

“Tell me then. Give me the real reason, you distrust Kakashi! He is the closest anyone ever came to uncle Tobi’s quick wit and his ability to adapt to any situation within a heartbeat. I know how much you idolized Tobirama, so why the hate for Kakashi?”

The old woman stared right through Tsunade, seemingly lost in her own mind. After a while she nodded to herself and approached the couch. She sat down slowly and closed her eyes. From an active shinobi this could have been a deception, feigning resignation, but everyone in the room knew without a doubt that even in her prime, Koharu would be no match for the other three together.

 

“Kakashi is not a Hatake.”

“Of course, he is! He looks almost exactly like Sakumo. Are you blind?!”

Tsunade countered on instinct. Kakashi couldn’t be more similar to his father. Doubting his lineage was ridicoulus! It took Hisoka brushing his hand against her arm to ground her and swallow the anger. She was unnerved even more by the humorless smile flickering across Koharu’s face.

“They do look alike. Just like Yamato resembles Lord Hashirama... Please, hear me out. – The Hatake were late to join Konoha. I remember sensei was the one to convince them eventually. He argued for them in the council too, presented them as invaluable allies. Their skills in kenjutsu were unrivaled and their knowledge on seals was rumored to be second only to the Uzumaki. Lord Hashirama often made fun of sensei for secretely wanting to be a Hatake, though I do not know if there is much truth to that. I still remember Sakumo coming with them.
He was a small child back then. His coloring was unusual. He was much paler than the others and his hair already a crisp white. I didn’t dwell on it back then, but as he became an adult he reached a height entirely unheard of in the Hatake clan. I wasn’t surprised when sensei took a liking to him and started teaching him in his spare time. He must have felt sympathetic due to his own unique position within the Senju.
In the first war the Hatake lost almost half of their clan and as you surely know, they left Konoha afterwards to build their own small village under Konoha’s protection. They swore off the shinobi life and followed a civilian path, specializing in forging swords and other ninja tools. They refused to teach their young the ninja arts and nowadays the other villages have forgotten the once feared clan. Except for Sakumo, who returned to Konoha in his early twenties with a babe.”

Tsunade impatiently drummed her fingers, but didn’t dare to interrupt. She suspected this was the one and only chance Koharu would talk and she’d do it on her own terms or not at all.

“I didn’t know Sakumo on a personal level and frankly didn’t care who Kakashi’s mother was. As long as Sakumo performed adequatly I was willing to ignore his private life. He was a highly skilled shinobi and I was disappointed when he declined Danzo’s offer to become the next ANBU commander, but instead decided to give up Hound entirely. Even Danzo could not argue with a father’s wish to raise his son though and we quietly hoped for his return once Kakashi was older. Needless to say we were shocked by his suicide. At the end of the day we are all human...
I already told you, I took pity on the child and went ouf of my way to visit the Hatake clan, to find a relative who’d look after him. But not a single clan member could name Sakumo’s parents or knew of a personal connection to him. They could tell me that he was raised by a childless man named Sukea who claimed to be a distant cousin of his. In an era of constant battle, when rape was a common occurence, no one bothered to look into it. Sukea was a casualty of the first war though and my trail grew cold. I gave up after another week. When I returned to Konoha, Kakashi got by fine on his own and I forgot about it.”

Hisoka had experience in hiding his emotions, but he knew Sakumo better than most and it was enraging to hear that even after his tragic end, Koharu simply regarded him as a lost asset. Even her small show of kindness had been dampened by the immediate ignorance following it.

“When Fugaku allowed Kakashi to keep the sharingan, I started my investigations once again. The sharingan had fascinated sensei for years and he found out a lot with Kagami’s help and would often discuss his theories with us to teach us the scientific approach. He explained the Uchiha’s chakra pathways were aligned differently and that it would be extremely difficult to use a sharingan without immediately destroying the eye for any non-Uchiha. So when Kakashi managed to use it for a prolonged time, I started to suspect Uchiha blood in him.
Then, one day, Danzo found one of Orochimaru’s labs. There were dozens of scrolls with notes on Sakumo’s genetic code! We recognized Orochimaru’s hand, but there was a second, smaller, messier, barely readable. When I brought it to my secretary she flat out told me I should bring it to an ANBU since they should be familiar with Sakumo’s chicken scratch.
Even after transcribing the notes we couldn’t make sense of it. However, Orochimaru was obsessed with Kakashi. Over the years we found hundreds of notes on him. Including intimate knowledge of his abilities and missions. He had an entire list of codenames and the different abilities Kakashi had used as each persona. There were a few codenames even Danzo and I didn’t know. On these grounds there is really only one conclusion to draw.
Kakashi is a sleeper agent for Orochimaru and that damn mask probably hides his curse mark!”

 

Oppressive silence filled the room. Tsunade wanted to retort, but she had to admit, the logic was sound.

“Sensei taught me to trust my instincts. Sakumo and Orochimaru were plotting something and Kakashi climbed the ladder silently. We’d better get rid of him now, before he can talk tactics with Orochimaru. Do you really think he forgave the village for driving Sakumo to suicide? Just like the Uchiha and Senju never forgot their rivalry, Kakashi only buried his rage. A preemptive strike is our best option now. A single life against the whole village, there is no debate. Sensei always said to destroy the roots before resistance could grow.”

 

This time Hisoka didn’t stop Tsunade. The Hokage cracked her knuckles and yelled at Koharu to her heart’s desire. She didn’t close the distance between them, she didn’t need to.

“Uncle Tobi was never so naive! He taught me to hope for the best and prepare for the worst. That much is true. But you never understood, what he didn’t say! He didn’t destroy all possible threats, he kept them close and observed. He gave the Uchiha the police, because he knew their strength and determination. He knew they loved fiercely and would do anything to protect those precious to them! So he made them the village’s protectors! He was wary of their destructive potential, but he didn’t hate them. He cared for them as an important part of the village. He was a careful man, suspicion came easy after so many years on the battefield, but he didn’t attack or punish without a good reason. So maybe Sakumo wasn’t a Hatake and wanted to find his real clan? Back then Orochimaru was my friend too! Did you even try to see Sakumo’s side?!”

 

Tsunade was trembling in anger and Hisoka could see her chakra flowing in furious waves. Koharu sat frozen in place and Ibiki had not moved from his spot beside the entrance. Hisoka cleared his throat.

“Ibiki, please take Koharu into your care. I will join you shortly. Koharu, if you want your clan unharmed, you will tell us all you know about the Elders in other villages and reveal your plots.”

Koharu struggled to get up, but did not resist when Ibiki put a heavy hand on her shoulder to lead her away. She did not look back, but she heard the venom in Tsunade’s voice and for the first time she could tell Tsunade was not bluffing.

“If you dare call uncle Tobi your sensei ever again, I will break every bone in your body.”

 


Tsunade finally escaped from her mother’s side and quickly ran towards the only office with a blue door.

It was locked and even on her tiptoes she could not reach the handle. She pouted, but tried again by jumping, instead of the door handle she managed to grab onto a forearm. She blinked in surprise when she was lifted up, until she was eye to eye with Tobirama.

“Hello, little warrior. Did you come to battle my door again?”

Tobirama didn’t even try to hide a fond smile. He had sensed her coming a while ago and easily guessed, why she ran away. Hashirama was in a council meeting and his niece and her husband had been forced to stay. Tobirama simply closed his door and let Tsunade climb onto his shoulders. He had been working on a personal project anyway and contrary to his public image, he actually loved children. Their honesty was quite refreshing.

Tsunade wiggled around on his shoulders and once she settled, her hands immediately went to his ears. Tobirama couldn’t tell why, but it always seemed to soothe her and it didn’t bother him.

“...I ran away from mommy. Everyone is talking and sometimes they shout. I don’t like it... Why are they angry?”

Tobirama went back to his desk.  As he sat down, he carefully pulled Tsunade into his lap. She snuggled into his chest as soon as he let go.

“Don’t worry, they’re not angry with you. You can stay here, okay? Would you like to draw?”

The little girl smiled at him. Before he could clear some desk space for her, she squealed in delight.

“This is pretty! It’s an eye?”

On the desk were multiple scrolls with notes and next to them a few sketches. They showed the different stages of Kagami’s sharingan, up to the mangekyou he had recently awakened. In fact, Kagami had asked him to look into it, in fear of going blind.

“It’s red like yours.”

Tobirama held still, while Tsunade scrambled to her feet to look deep into his eyes. He chuckled at her flickering from side to side before settling on one eye.

“I didn’t draw my own eyes. It’s a sharingan. It’s a very special ability and only the Uchiha have it.”

Tsunade kept inspecting his eyes anyway. She traced the dark bags under them, too young to understand his exhaustion, innocently assuming it was as normal on him as his red eyes. Then she went on to trace one tattoo after another. Suddenly, as if on cue, she blushed a deep red and settled in his lap again.

“Mommy says, it’s rude to stare. Sorry, uncle Tobi! Don’t be mad.”

Tobirama placed a small peck on her head and gestured at the images again.

“It’s fine, You were curious and wanted to look for yourself. Being curious is a good thing, it drives you to learn new things.”

“But... Mommy says girls should be kind and pretty. And... this eye is really pretty, but mommy says the Uchiha are scary.”

Tsunade was entirely focused on the bit of Tobirama’s shirt she kept twisting in her hands. She was too embarrassed to look up and couldn’t see the deep frown on Tobirama’s face. She tensed at the hand on her shoulder, expecting a scolding and to be sent back to her mother. Instead she was pulled against a warm chest. Her pig tails were pulled loose and long fingers carded through her hair. She didn’t understand why she started crying.

“Shhh, it’s fine Tsuna. It’s fine, if you don’t like everything mommy says. I’m proud of you for questioning things. The Uchiha are scary like all shinobi, because they are strong. They protect their precious ones, just like I protect you. Kagami is a very nice Uchiha and my student. You can meet him, if you want and we’ll keep it a secret from your mommy.”

Tobirama waited patiently until Tsunade stopped crying, gently rocking her.

“So.. the Uchiha are not bad?”

“No. The Senju and the Uchiha started this village together. My generation lost too many siblings to senseless fighting. We built the village to protect the children. All of them, no matter their clan. I am Tobirama of the Leaf first now and you’re uncle Tobi second.”