Chapter 49

So, this is how she would die.

Locked in a cell, beaten and bloodied waiting for the cold to take her. Keiko had no idea how long she had been in that cell. A few days perhaps? A week? She wouldn't be surprised if it turned out to be a month. She couldn't see the daylight and Kyoryu seemed to come at the most random of times. Certainly that was planned so she truly had nothing to judge how much time had passed.

Every time that sadistic man showed himself she knew that he would leave her more broken than when he arrived. Then, Kabuto would follow shortly after, wordlessly healing her wounds and mending her bones. At least he would try.

Keiko wasn't a medical ninja, but she was pretty sure that repeated healing wasn't something it was meant for. Medical jutsu was meant to help speed up recovery or stabilize the wounded. Naturally, Kabuto would do what he could after each encounter, but soon enough Kyoryu would return and make her injuries even worse. At this point she could tell that Kabuto's jutsu wasn't as helpful as it had once been. Either Kabuto was becoming lazy, or his jutsu was losing its effect.

There were plenty of wounds on her body, mostly mended or half healed, but the worst was the wound Kabuto had inflicted in their fight. When she had jumped in front of Iruka and tried to block a lethal attack. Kabuto would need to rebandage it nearly every time he patched her up. It was a constant source of pain, being the deepest wound on her body that Kyoryu loved to exploit.

Perhaps the cold wouldn't get its chance if Kyoryu did it first. She coughed, trying to pull her legs further toward her to conserve as much heat as possible. Hypothermia had never crossed her mind as a potential demise. With her affinity for the colder elements, she naturally kept warmer than others. But that was when she had chakra.

Her chakra was so attuned to the cold she hardly needed to focus at all to keep herself warm. After so long in these conditions, she didn't have the strength or the stamina left to replenish it. Especially after the first several times she tried to fight back. She had tried to punch him, and she had been rewarded with broken fingers, one at a time.

She'd never thought that she would become so accustomed to the sound of her own bones breaking. Keiko wrapped her good arm around herself, coughing as she recalled the time he had broken several of her ribs when she had tried to ambush him. She had laid on the ground gasping for air. Every breath felt like she was being stabbed, until she was.

Her entire body ached, and lord knew the last time she had eaten a proper meal. Kabuto brought water with him after most of her torture sessions, but food would be delivered sparingly. When she was fed, it was a bowl of rice, and nothing more. Eventually, the hunger dulled to a constant ache.

Keiko knew that most of the noises she heard had to be her paranoia and fatigue getting to her. Sleep didn't come easy. Not when she was in a state of constant pain. Even after Kabuto's healing there were lingering pains.

There was also the issue of what would happen if Kyoryu happened to come by while she was asleep. From cuts, to bones snapping, even having water dumped on her. Kyoryu had to find an entertaining way to wake her. Just another reason any sleep she had gotten would only be if she had passed out from exhaustion or pain.

Other than thinking about her circumstances, Keiko did have plenty of time to reflect. She thought about Remi and Iruka and how she couldn't save them. Death came with the territory, but it had been the first time she had lost anyone like this, and the guilt ate away at her.

She tried to distract herself by thinking of happier things. Like Sakura slowly but surely becoming her own independent person. Naruto and all the adventures he was sure to be having with Jiraiya. Her father and his rambunctious ways. Guy and his silly challenges against Kakashi.


She felt her heart constrict at the thought of him. Out of everyone she thought of, she thought of him the most. Surely by now word had reached the village that they never reached their destination.

Her hand reached up to her hair. She could imagine why Kyoryu had cut it. A weird need for domination or just another form of psychological torture, but Keiko had a feeling it was more than that. Her pendant, like all of her other belongings, was gone too. If it was Kakashi he was after, then it made sense that this was all just a sign. A message.

If he had sent a message, then Kakashi would already know. Her heart ached for him, he probably thought she was dead. And who knew what Kyoryu had said to hurt him.

Keiko thought about him. His dry but witty humor. The warmth of his body next to hers. The way they would become lost in each other's company, as if nothing else mattered. How his charcoal eyes would bore into hers with so much adoration and warmth.

She grimaced at that last thought. She wondered if he would still look at her the same way if she ever got to see him again. What would he think of her failure? Would he think she was weak? He valued protecting his teammates at all cost, and yet she had failed to do so. Would he think less of her for it?

Remi didn't deserve to die. Perhaps, if she had tried harder, been more vigilant, then Remi would have lived. And Iruka, she couldn't be there to protect him either. Oh, how Kyoryu loved to hang that over her head. How she had sacrificed herself for him, only for Iruka to be cut down right after. She led them to their deaths.

She shook her head to rid herself of the thought, but quickly regretted her actions as it made the room spin. A soft groan escaped her lips as she leaned her head back against the wall. Her eyes would drift shut, but once she realized she was beginning to drift she forced her eyes to focus.

A sound she had grown familiar with found her ears and her body tensed.

The lock to the cellar door clicked, followed shortly by the slow creaking of the old hinges. Keiko didn't move, only continued to look up at the ceiling. The only form of defiance she could muster was to ignore him.

For a moment she thought she might have just hallucinated the noises. Kyoryu was usually so quick to start with the verbal berating. But, she heard nothing.

"Well, time to put an end to this, don't you think?"

Had she had a bit more energy, Keiko's head would have snapped up at attention. Given her weakened and weary state, she could only turn her head to look up and gap slightly. Walking into the room was Kabuto. This was the first time she had seen him come in to visit her without Kyoryu having done significant damage first.

His words repeated in her mind and her brow furrowed. She laughed despite herself, her voice raspy from so long without proper use. "If that were the case, why bother healing anything he did?"

Kabuto stood in front of her for a moment, taking in her bruised and bloodied appearance. He had to give credit where it was due. She certainly could handle quite a bit of torture. There were few people who could have taken the beatings she endured and not have begged for death or some kind of release. He would stand outside the door through every one of Kyoryu's sessions and he never once heard her plead for anything. Scream? Yes. But plead? No.

He crouched down and reached out for her wrists and began undoing the binds that held her chained to the wall. "If you're wanting to get out of here, you better get running."

It took a bit of time for Keiko to fully comprehend what Kabuto had just done. She was too busy staring at her unshackled wrists in utter shock. Her mouth opened and closed as she tried to find her voice. By the time she had found it, Kabuto was already walking toward the door. She spluttered, calling out as her voice cracked, "Wait!"

Kabuto stopped, his head tilted to indicate she had his attention.

Keiko stumbled to her feet, finding that they were shaky beneath her. Hardly able to put weight on one leg without shooting pain, she leaned against the wall to catch herself. Channeling as much power into her voice as she could muster, she demanded, "What kind of sick trick are you playing at?"

"Trick?" Kabuto looked over his shoulder at her, hardly turning. "I can understand your hesitation at this opportunity for escape. But, I promise you, this will be your one and only chance to leave."

"Then why now? And, you've never answered me, why are you here? What does Orochimaru have to do with any of this?" She tried to keep her voice calm and steady as she shifted her weight off of her injured leg. Keiko has asked him many times why Orochimaru saw fit to send one of his best spies out to the Land of Iron, but he had never answered her. Was he acting on his own?

Kabuto hummed thoughtfully, "Let's just say, Kyoryu outlived his usefulness."

Her eyes widened, "Then, you-?"

"No, no," Kabuto shook his head, "Someone else will get the pleasure of doing that. Now that this little escapade of his is finished, he's too much of a liability." Before Keiko could ask another question he cut her off, "As for you, you've served your purpose, for now. So, I'll say it again, you better get running."

Kabuto walked through the door, but stopped just outside its threshold, "Oh, once you get outside, run toward the tallest peak. And, you better hurry, you don't want to miss them."

And with that, he was gone.

Keiko stared at the wide open door in stunned silence. As Kabuto said, this was her one and only chance. But, could she trust him? After everything he had done, how could she take his words at face value?

And, once again, he had avoided the question of why he was there.

Perhaps, it was the adrenaline, but her mind suddenly felt clearer than it had in days. Whether she could trust Kabuto or not, this was a chance that she couldn't pass up. If there was a chance of escape she had to take it.

Keiko pushed herself off of the wall and took her first steps, only to stagger and lunge forward to catch herself on the door frame. The movements were jarring, and sent her body screaming in a mix of aches and pains. She panted, mentally preparing herself for the undoubtable pain she would face as she moved freely.

Finally, she grit her teeth and moved as quickly as she could down the corridors. There were no windows, even after going up flights of stairs, so she followed the scent. As she moved closer to the exit, the musty scent of the cellar she had grown accustomed to was slowly taken over by the smell of fresh snow and pine.

When she finally reached the exit, the door opened easily and she leaned against it to take in the surroundings. Instead of the manmade hallways she had been running through, the door opened to a natural cave. Light illuminated from one side and she took a deep breath as the breeze gently ruffled her hair.

She limped up the slow incline toward the mouth of the cave, her eyes burning from the intense light. Keiko held her hand up to shield her eyes from the light as the breeze steadily grew stronger. Her now short hair fluttered around her face as she stepped out into the open light of day. Already she could feel herself shiver from the cold. No coat or poncho to keep her warm. All she had was the white robe they had dressed her in after bringing her there, she didn't even have any shoes.

Once her eyes adjusted, she gasped taking in the landscape. The sight of the trees dusted with freshly fallen snow, the mountains building to a crescendo in the sky. After so long in the dark, the sight alone was enough to make her heart feel lighter. Solidifying the simple fact that she was free.

Keiko turned to look back into the dark cave. Even as reality was sinking in, she couldn't help but feel that it was all too easy. She felt as though she were a rabbit that a wolf wanted to play with. Gritting her teeth, she turned and looked up to the sky.

The highest peak…

She still didn't know if she should trust Kabuto's direction, but it was all she had to go on. Even now, he could kill her if he wanted. He was sure to be just out of sight watching her. Regardless, Keiko leapt down the steep cliff, maneuvering expertly before landing on one of the trees at the bottom. She cried out in pain, and her vision swam as she panted trying to catch her breath. She had to keep going. She couldn't stop now.


Just as Keiko disappeared into the trees, Kabuto stepped out of the cave. He thought over the last few weeks and pondered how things had played out.

By the time everything was all said and done, Kyoryu would be dead. While the man was a strong and formidable foe in his own right, Kabuto knew that whoever faced him would finish him off. Especially after the ruse he insisted on pulling…

He knew Kyoryu was waiting for him to come and provide back up, but Kabuto had no intention of that. Kyoryu would become too much of a liability. As useful of a tool as Kyoryu had been up to this point, it was apparent that had his plan to take revenge on Kakashi worked, he would have no more loyalty to Orochimaru. And, a man with no loyalties was dangerous, especially if he knew too much.

Kabuto reached into his pocket and pulled out a vial, holding it up to the light to inspect it. The bright red liquid glistened in the light. He had far more in the small lab he kept within the hideout. Whenever Keiko would doze off or fall unconscious, Kabuto took the opportunity and drained just a bit from her. He doubted she had even noticed thanks to all the injuries she already suffered from. A needle prick was nothing compared to what Kyoryu insisted on.

If only they had the opportunity to do this sooner. When Orochimaru had retrieved her blood from their encounter during the Chunin Exams, he hadn't gotten enough. There had only been enough for a few experiments, all of which were failures. Perhaps, this new batch would hold different results.

Orochimaru might be upset that he let her get away, but Kabuto had his own plans.

He grinned to himself, confident in the gears he had set in motion.


"I made it."

Keiko looked from person to person quickly, gathering the familiar faces and growing at ease with each passing second. She breathed heavily, her injured leg burning and sending a stabbing pain all the way up her back.

Traversing the landscape so ill equipped had definitely done a number on her. Some pains she couldn't feel anymore thanks to the cold, but others seemed to be amplified. She could no longer feel her feet either, and was afraid to look down and see the state of them. They probably fared no better than the rest of her, shivering, bloodied and bruised.

Her good arm gripped the stump of the tree as best she could as her eyes looked from person to person. Finally, they landed on the familiar figure of Kakashi. He was splattered in blood, but even so, the sight of him sent her heart singing.

Relief flooded her body like a tidal wave. Keiko lost her grip on the tree and swayed before falling forward.

Kakashi couldn't believe his eyes. Even as he and everyone else were still trying to wrap their heads around what they were seeing, her body visibly sagged and she fell forward. Even though his body was on the brink of collapse he didn't have to think to rush forward and catch her.

Unfortunately, the weight of her body was too much in his state and he fell to the ground clutching her in his arms. They fell in a heap, Kakashi falling with his back against a tree and he held Keiko firmly to his chest. He pulled away slightly and looked down at her, her eyes more vivid than he had ever thought possible.

"Miss me?"

Just then, everyone else snapped out of their shock and shouted, rushing forward all at once.

Kakashi took a moment to look at her, really look. She was still just as beautiful as he remembered, but pain was etched into her features. Her hair that was once long and luxurious was short and disheveled, some of it sticking to the sweat on her face. Bruises lined the skin he could see on her arms and legs and even her neck. She looked and felt thinner, her face was gaunt and he had to wonder how long it had been since she had eaten. He could feel her body shivering as well from the cold.

Despite all of that, she was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.

His fingers squeezed gently at first. Even though she was shivering and cold, she was alive.

No other thought could penetrate the sense of relief he felt. Every breath she took, every word she spoke, every beat of her heart was proof that she was there and she was alive.

As the thought crossed his mind he held her closer, burying his nose into her hair. But, when he heard her hiss in pain his grip loosened considerably. "How badly are you injured?" His voice doing nothing to hide the worry he felt.

Keiko had already been overwhelmed, with the numerous voices shouting her name and asking her questions. And while she wanted nothing more than to melt into Kakashi's side and stay there, the position was putting pressure on places that were painful. Her chest wound was pressed painfully into his flack jacket and when she felt him suddenly squeeze her she couldn't stop the hiss.

"I'm fine, just not so hard." She managed to gasp out between breaths. She jumped when a hand was suddenly placed on her forehead, a glowing light illuminating from it. "Shizune." She whispered once she realized who it was.

Shizune's trained eyes scanned Keiko from head to toe taking in her condition. She could instantly tell Keiko had been through hell from just the bruises alone. Keiko was like a diagram of different healing stages. Shizune had gone into field medic mode and began assessing the damage. At least she knew that Keiko had been able to travel some distance to get to them in this state so she shouldn't be in any immediate danger.

Keiko was positioned so her back was to Kakashi's chest as Shizune evaluated her condition. Finally, her eyes once again traveled to the faces of the others around them. She could see Guy and her father exchanging a powerful embrace, their faces dripping with tears. A man who looked vaguely familiar stood near them patting her father on the back while sharing a relieved smile of his own. And further behind them was Anko, looking down at something.

Her eyes widened and her mouth fell open in shock.

Was that… her?

It wore all of her clothes and gear, she could even see her broken blade laying on the ground near it. Her face paled looking at the strange thing.

Shizune noticed her line of sight and turned her head to look as well. She had not had a chance to properly examine the body since they had come across it. But, with Keiko alive right in front of her, it had to be a fake. "We all thought you were dead thanks to that thing. I'll need to take it back and examine it. One hell of a good mannequin." She finished the last part under her breath.

"You wish to take that thing back? Whatever for?" Miura asked while Guy and Musashi separated, wiping their tears.

"Because, there might be something we can learn from it. It's incredibly lifelike." The level of detail now that she knew it had to be a fake was honestly a little concerning. A bad feeling was settling in her gut about it.

Guy took a few steps toward Keiko, unable to contain himself any longer, he knelt down and grasped her hand between his. Tears stinging his eyes while he smiled, "Words cannot describe how relieved we are to find you! I'm sure Iruka will be elated to know we're bringing you back!"

Keiko, still staring at the strange alien version of herself, looked at Guy. Iruka's name snapping her out of her stupor, "Iruka? He's alive?"

She could feel Kakashi resting his head atop hers gently, "We got news that he was badly injured, but he's fine now. Shizune made sure of that."

Shizune nodded, "Yes, Iruka suffered some serious injuries, but it was nothing I couldn't handle. Now, Keiko, I'm sorry to pressure you but do you think you could lead us to Remi?"

Keiko stiffened. For a moment, the word caught in her throat, "Remi?"

There was a pregnant pause before Anko stepped away from Keiko's double and entered the conversation, "She's the only one not accounted for now. Once we find her we can get back to the village."


She's dead.

Keiko couldn't bring herself to say the words. To say the simple truth. All the same, she was baffled. They had found Iruka, and Remi wouldn't have been very far from where they found him. So, what did they mean she was unaccounted for?

A few memories flashed through her mind then, Kyoryu leaning over her, telling her that Kakashi would love the surprise he had in store for him. Later, Kyoryu leaves and asks Kabuto how his little 'side project' was going.

Shizune stopped once her assessment and quickly noticed just how pale Keiko had become. She reached her hand up to her face, worried for a moment that there was something she had overlooked, "Keiko?"

Kakashi stiffened, sensing Shizune's concern. His hold on her tightened only slightly. "What's wrong?"

Shizune watched as Keiko opened and closed her mouth, trying to speak. She followed Keiko's line of sight back to the mannequin and then returned to Keiko. That ominous feeling in her gut growing further.

And then it all clicked.

Shizune stood abruptly and nearly shoved Anko out of the way to get to the thing they had all thought was Keiko's lifeless body.

Everyone watched as Shizune's glowing hands traced up and down the length of the body. She lifted the hands, inspecting them closely. Followed by lifting the head and turning it about carefully, inspecting every inch.

Kakashi turned his gaze away and closed his eyes, not able to stomach the sight. While everyone else watched Shizune in confusion and anticipation, he buried his nose once again into Keiko's hair. A shaky breath escaped his lips and he could feel his fingers shaking. Either from emotion or exhaustion, he couldn't tell anymore.

He just didn't want to be reminded of the utter agony he had lived through. Not too long ago, Kakashi was facing a reality without her. He didn't have the strength to face that. Not now.

A soft hand rested on his and he opened his eyes to see stunning blue looking back. Craning her head back to the side to look at him, she did her best to muster as reassuring a smile as she could. She leaned closer to him and whispered, "We'll be okay."

Unable to stop himself, he closed the distance and settled his lips on hers.

For a brief moment, Kakashi cursed the mask that acted as a barrier. Regardless, the mask didn't stop him from feeling the warmth of her skin, or the way she returned the kiss with her own gentle pressure. Even the soft sigh as she melted in his arms.

They would be okay.

Anko couldn't help a soft grin pulling at her lips as she glimpsed back at the two reunited love birds. Best let them have their moment. Instead, she turned her attention back to Shizune, who held her glowing hand over the fake Keiko's eye. She knelt down, "Don't keep us in suspense, what's the matter?"

Shizune's hand stopped glowing and she took her hand away, revealing a deep brown eye. Anko abruptly took a step back, shocked at the sudden change.

"This is Remi."

Confusion turned to shocked and stunned silence before Guy spoke up, "What? No, it can't be! That's just a puppet, a diversion, a trick!"

The kunoichi shook her head, "No, her body's been manipulated and changed to look like Keiko. That's why we all believed it. But, the amount of detail…" There wasn't a single thing about it that didn't match Keiko exactly.

"Who would do something like this?" Musashi said in a hoarse whisper. The body he had grieved over, even if only for a short time, was an entirely different person. His fist clenched at his sides. Who could mutilate and disfigure someone else's body to such a degree?

"It was Kabuto." All eyes turned to Keiko. Her face betrayed just how haggard and drained she really was. Even her voice lacked its usual energy. "Kyoryu called it Kabuto's side project."

"Kabuto?" Anko shouted in surprise, her posture lowering, "That means Orochimaru had to have played a part in this!"

At the mention of Kabuto, Kakashi's mind tracked back to their encounter in the hospital. How in mere moments Kabuto was able to suture a false face to a corpse and swap places with it. "If there's anyone who could pull that off, it would be Kabuto." There was no part of Remi that differed from Keiko. Had she not found them, there was little doubt in his mind that they would have returned to the village proclaiming her dead. And, even if it were discovered to not be her, the chances of finding her again would have been practically zero by that point.

Miura raised his hand to inquire, "Who exactly is this Kabuto?"

"A rogue ninja from our village in league with Orochimaru, one of the Sannin." Guy said, watching as Anko took out a sealing scroll to transport the body. He was still in a bit of shock, he couldn't bring himself to think of it as Remi, nothing about it reminded him of the short brunette. "Kakashi and I have had a few run-ins with him already."

In a puff of smoke, Remi's unrecognizable body was gone, stored in a scroll that Shizune placed in her flack jacket. "We'll have time to talk about everything later. Right now, we should head back so I can properly care for Keiko's wounds." All she could do now was administer pain relief. Kabuto's involvement explained why Keiko had wounds on her body that seemed to be far older than they possibly could be. And why Keiko's body seemed to want to reject her jutsu. It left a bad taste in her mouth, knowing just how much trauma she had to endure for her body to struggle accepting her jutsu.

Everyone was in agreement, but when Keiko and Kakashi tried to stand, neither could bring themselves to. Neither had the energy to lift themselves on their own accord.

Miura moved closer and helped hoist Keiko onto her feet, supporting her weight with an arm draped over his shoulder. "You sure have grown, haven't you?"

Her head swam from the sudden change in position but she focused her eyes on this man's face. She couldn't put her finger on it, but he was so familiar. "I'm sorry…?"

Miura smiled and laughed, "It has been almost fifteen years. I suppose I can forgive you for not recognizing me, my dear niece."

Her mouth hung open, "Uncle?" No wonder he looked familiar! If she had the energy, she would have flung her arms around him and embraced him in a hug. Instead, she smiled, resting her head against his shoulder. "It's good to see you." She yelped in surprise when she was suddenly hoisted onto someone's back, piggy back style.

"Sorry, brother, I hope you can understand." Musashi grinned apologetically. If he wasn't afraid that Keiko would crumble or break in his arms, he would have crushed her in a hug first. But, he would settle for this. He had enough strength left to do this at least.

While Miura removed his poncho to drape over her, Keiko looked wide eyed at the back of her fathers head. She was smiling and plopped her head on his shoulder. "Love you, dad," Keiko said in a whisper.

Musashi swallowed, as he tried to not let the emotions overcome him. Not too long ago, he thought he would never hear those words again. Even more so, she hadn't called him "Dad" in so long it caught him off guard.


Keiko turned her head to look back and saw Guy lifting Kakashi onto his back. Kakashi's head hanging limply. She remembered the blood and stammered, "Is he alright?"

Guy flashed a wide smile, "Of course! You know Kakashi, works himself half to death in a fight."

Keiko relaxed and sighed, "Right." Then a thought occurred to her, "Wait a minute, why is he more beat up than the rest of you?"

"That's because he raced off to find you alone. The rest of us were preoccupied," Her father said.

"It was one hell of a battle, but Kakashi finished him off. Kabuto might still be out there, but that guy didn't stand a chance." Guy gestured with his thumb across the clearing to another figure lying in the snow.

Musashi turned so she could see without having to turn her head again. Sure enough, she could see him. Kyoryu was dead.


The whistle of the teapot sounded, and Miura turned down the heat before serving it. Guy, Anko, Musashi and Miura were all in the original room they had congregated in previously. Miura poured the tea and slid it onto the table toward each person. "We still do not have a name for the man Kakashi killed, do you think they had proper introductions before the end?"

"It's hard to say," Guy began, picking up the tea. "We don't know what kind of man he was. But. I have a feeling we'll get more answers once Keiko recovers and wakes up." Shortly after their departure from the clearing, Keiko had fallen unconscious and had yet to wake up. Shizune said she was shocked she hadn't passed out sooner. When he had pointed out the man's body in the clearing, he could tell instantly that she knew who it was. Surely she could shed some light on who he was.

Anko didn't pick up the tea, only watched the steam as she said, "There is something we can be certain of, and that's Orochimaru's involvement. Either that, or Kabuto acted on his own." She shook her head, "the odds of that are astronomically low. Going against him will cause you nothing but trouble." She had been trying to piece together in her own mind why Orochimaru would have been involved in the first place. She thought back to the Chunin Exams and how Orochimaru had taken some of Keiko's blood. Could that have something to do with this? It seemed crazy though, to go through all of this trouble just for Keiko to be returned to them. It didn't add up.

The door to the room clicked open, and Musashi, who had yet to move or speak, stood in anticipation. Shizune stepped in, her brow knitted together in thought and concern.

"Shizune! How is she?"

The kunoichi moved closer to sit on the couch and smiled. It was a smile both Anko and Guy knew the medics used when they had, not so great news. "She will be fine, so will Kakashi. His wounds were minor and he only passed out due to overexertion."

"And, Keiko?" Guy knew there was more to the story.

Shizune lowered her gaze and clasped her hands together on her lap. "Lady Tsunade will need to take a closer look at her once we are back in the village. Other than the mild frostbite and extensive bruising, there are scars from stab wounds and slash marks. Evidence that multiple bones have been broken, healed, and then rebroken." Her hands balled into fists, "The wounds were healed just enough to be non life threatening, but then they would do more damage. Even now I don't know how she got to us in that clearing. Her femur is just barely mended."

The news left them speechless. Musashi, who had been standing, fell back into his seat. His face pale at the thought of his daughter enduring that torture.

While the word torture never left her lips, they knew there was no other word for it.

"Out of all the wounds, there's one on her chest," she placed her hand on her chest just above her breast to show where the wound was. "That one is the most worrying. So close to the heart and it damaged her lung. Out of all the wounds, this one has been mutilated the most. It never had a chance to properly heal. Tsunade will need to be sure there won't be any lasting damage. There's also the fact that my medical jutsu isn't as effective as it should be." She chose to keep her mouth shut about anything more. Just breathing had to be a labor intensive activity. Deep breathing had to be painful with that wound and the few broken ribs.

Miura shook his head as he tried to process, "Your jutsu isn't effective? What do you mean? Surely a few broken bones isn't too much for you?" He knew he sounded insulting, but after the day they had all had, he didn't have the grace left to utter his words more tactfully.

Shizune's brow twitched, "Wounds like these are child's play in any normal situation. But this isn't a normal situation. Keiko's had enough damage done to her to kill her three times over, but because Kabuto was there he was able to keep her alive through it all. Keiko's body has been healed so extensively that now she's rejecting it. It can happen from time to time, and usually the cure is to just forgo medical jutsu for a time. But, this is the first time I've seen it to this extent."

"Sadistic." Musashi said, rubbing his face with his hands. "No one does that to a person and doesn't get some kind of sick enjoyment out of it!" His teeth ground together in anger. He wished he had been there to watch the bastard die.

Miura rested a hand on his brother's shoulder to offer support, "There are people in the world who are that way. But, the way this all played out, it wasn't by random chance. This was coordinated. An act of passion."

"Right," Guy added, "there wouldn't be a need to target any specific person or send a message like they did if this was just someone chasing some sick pleasure. We just don't know why it was so personal for him."

Anko leaned back in her seat, crossing her arms and resting one leg over the other, "Something tells me we won't know the answer to that question until one of them wakes up."


When Kakashi woke up, he opened his eyes to find himself not in a snow covered field, but in a warm hospital bed. It took him a moment to process exactly where he could be and what happened. When it all came back to him, he tried to get up but was immediately greeted with shooting pain. So instead, he looked around in a panic.

It didn't take him long to see her.

Laying the bed next to him was Keiko. It looked like she had been bathed and a thick blanket covered her up to her chin. Even though she was unconscious, he knew she was safe. And that was enough to settle his nerves. He laid there for several moments, staring at her in silence as if admiring a rare work of art.

"Finally awake."

Kakashi turned his head to the other side to see Iruka, propped up on some pillows. His hair was down and a hand rested just over his stomach. Reminding him what kind of wound Iruka had sustained.

Iruka smiled softly, "She's gonna be alright. I overheard that she's got some serious injuries, but nothing that should endanger her life."

Kakashi nodded, thankful for the news. "And how are you holding up?"

"I'll be fine." He looked away, down at his hands with a far off look in his eyes. "I'm just thankful that Keiko is back safe and sound." His hands balled into fists. "At least one of them got to come back…" It was a thought nearly constantly on his mind. If only he had gotten to her a few seconds sooner. If only he were stronger. Maybe, just maybe she would still be there.


Iruka looked over to see Kakashi looking at him with more sympathy than he had ever expected to see from him. It caught him off guard.

"Don't blame yourself."

Iruka wanted to bite back at how rich that was coming from him. But, he didn't. Instead he thought back over the battle against Kabuto and that masked man. How he held Remi's lifeless body in his arms with no time to mourn. Blinking back tears he cleared his throat, "There were two of them. Kabuto, and a masked man. What happened to them?"

Kakashi looked away, choosing to settle his gaze back on Keiko. "Kabuto got away."

Iruka's fists tightened at the news, "And, the other?"


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Posted - 1/16/23