| In a Place Like This [Katsuko]
||[Oct. 31st, 2011|07:35 pm]
[Backstory: Takes place during Katsuko’s six-month imprisonment in the labs, a year after Kyuubi. Katsuko is fifteen in this.]
There was no night down in the holding cells. For there to be night there’d have to be day, and who could tell which was which underground? Time was measured, instead, by the small increments between one experiment and the next—the hours between the rattle of a key in the lock, the creak of old steel as the orderlies wheeled the gurney down the long hallway.
They took away her forehead protector and weapons, her clothes and the family photo she kept in the leather pouch strung around her neck: vestiges of an old life, proof of an identity she no longer owned. In return she was given a number, 24, and a syringe of gleaming, clear liquid that burned as it forced into her veins. Before dragging her downstairs, into the dark, the orderlies shaved her head down to smooth stubble and dressed her in a rough tunic that came down to her knees; the drug they’d injected her with kept her numb and compliant, loose-limbed as a rag doll.
The first night was the worst. The drug wore off a few minutes after the orderlies threw her into her cell; she spent the next six hours screaming and clawing at the walls, blood from her torn nail beds painting dark, gory streaks over the pitted concrete. The agony of the chakra-inhibiting jutsu rendered her blind and deaf, able only to hurl herself against the four sides of her prison until she collapsed from exhaustion.
Her cell was barely five feet across and stank of old fear and iron. The floor was hard-packed dirt lined with rushes; a rusty cot folded out of the wall and a rude chamber pot occupied the far corner. A thick metal grate set into the left wall let her see into the cell beyond; after the first month, she was thin enough that she could fit her arm through the bars up to her elbow.
An old monk called Hakuin occupied the room to her left; his was the voice that roused her from a panicked stupor on the second day and encouraged her to eat, coaxing her towards the bowl of thin nutrient paste that had been shoved in through the door slats. He’d been in the cells almost since the start of the experiments, when Cloud had burned down his temple and handed the survivors over to the labs. The two scientists running the experiments were husband and wife, he told Katsuko. Cloud jounin, with cold eyes and security clearance levels so high they had to be assigned code names within their own Village. ‘Kaminari’, the woman called herself; the man went by ‘Inazuma’ and followed his wife like a dangerous, silent shadow.
There were other victims, other test subjects, but they didn’t speak--either too terrified or resigned to their fate to reach out. They were separated by experimental group, fresh stitches and scars crusted over with blood and eyes fever-bright. Hakuin himself looked a patchwork quilt, skin seamed with healed-over, careless cuts.
The ones with kekkei genkai were the first to go, dissected and thrown away like broken toys once they lost their novelty. An Iwa jounin who’d been spitting lava when they’d dragged him in was wheeled back to his cell the fifth day, mouth sewn shut and most of his throat missing. A Taki kunoichi with pupil-less blue eyes was returned after the third week, a rough blindfold tied over her empty sockets. Katsuko learned to shrink back into the shadows of her cell whenever she heard the squeak of gurney wheels, praying to nameless gods that Kaminari’s terrible whimsy would pass over her one more time.
Her luck ran out on the first day of the second month. Two orderlies threw open the door to her cell in the middle of the night, waking her from a fitful sleep. She fought, as anyone who wanted to live fought, with teeth and nails and reflexes slowed by weeks of starvation. Hakuin’s voice was weak as dried reeds, but he joined Katsuko in her litany of curses and bitten-off pleas. In the end they had to knock her out with a blow to the back of the neck, and the next time she woke it was to the glare of fluorescent lights in the sterile environment of the surgery room.
There was a woman in a stained lab-coat leaning over her, face cast in shadow. Hair the color of snow hung over her shoulders, long enough that it brushed the tip of Katsuko’s nose.
“Konoha taunts us,” the woman grated. “First they take my daughter from me, and now they throw her back bearing their mark.” She leaned in close, breath hot with the scent of madness and rot. Katsuko stared into bloodshot green eyes and held herself still, heart pounding against her ribcage.
A man spoke, voice harsh. “Yoshiko is dead, Kaminari, and nothing can change that. The girl only resembles her.”
Kaminari ran one claw-like nail down Katsuko’s throat, crooning as she pressed the sharp edge against the rapid beat of her pulse. “An insult, nonetheless. One we must answer in kind.” She smiled down at the girl, teeth glinting straight and even. “For you, my dear, deserve only the best.”
That was the start of it. Katsuko fell asleep in her cell and woke up strapped to the lab table, passed out screaming on the lab table and woke in her cell. Inazuma held her down while Kaminari cut into her with scalpels and chakra sharp as fire, precise even in the throes of insanity.
They were kind enough to drug her to the gills during it, though Katsuko suspected it was more out of habit than anything else. She lost track of time. Hakuin held her hand during her brief moments of lucidity, murmuring sutras in a soothing lullaby. One day she woke to a row of stitches marching across her stomach, insides twisting and burning like the worst of her periods and dysentery combined. She vomited until there was nothing left to spew out and retreated to a corner of her cell, curling up around the agony in her core.
“I’m going to live,” she told Inazuma that night, watching him insert the needle into the big vein on the inside of her elbow. “I’m going to live, and then I’m going to kill you.”
He glanced at her, eyes narrowing in the first display of emotion since he’d told Kaminari that Katsuko wasn’t their dead daughter. She bared her teeth, black already beginning to seep in at the edges of her vision.
He smiled, thin lips stretching on his skull-like face. “I’d be disappointed if you didn’t try.”
The next time she woke, it was to the moldy stone ceiling of her cell and the echo of somebody’s soft whimpers.
“You’re back,” Hakuin observed, giving a hacking cough. His eyes glittered in the shadows by the grate. “They brought a new one in while you were gone. Genin, it looks like.”
Katsuko sat up with a groan, licking cracked lips as she checked herself over. No new stitches, just the throbbing ache of old cuts and the newest operation. “How long did they keep me?”
“Six hours, at least.” Hakuin shifted, reaching through the grate. Katsuko leaned into his touch, letting him pat her face and neck with one skeletal hand. He cupped her cheek when he was done with his inspection, thumb rubbing her cheekbone in a silent gesture of affection. “It’s good to see you again, child.”
“You too, old man.” She grinned at him, only to jump in surprise when the newcomer’s wails rose to piercing levels. Several cells down, another prisoner banged on the bars while the kunoichi in 16b shouted for somebody to stop whoever was making that cursed racket.
Hakuin sighed. “Would you talk to him? He’s going to provoke the orderlies if this goes on much longer. He’s in 13b.” He coughed again, thin shoulders shaking. “I would try it myself, but...”
The latest procedure had left the old monk barely able to speak above a whisper, stitches around his throat three inches deep. Katsuko shook her head. “You should rest, gramps. Let the younger generation take care of things once in a while.”
“Cheeky brat.” Hakuin settled back with ill humor, drawing the rags of his tunic around him. “Go on, then.”
Katsuko hadn’t been able to stand on her feet since the third operation; her knees still worked, though, so it was with a weary crawl that she made her way to the barred door of her cell. She peered out into the darkened gloom, at the huddled shape in the cell kitty corner to hers. The new guy sounded young, younger than her. Younger than she’d been when they’d first brought her here, anyways.
“Hey, kid.” Dark eyes set in a chubby-cheeked face jerked up to meet hers, round with fear. Kami, genin was an overstatement. The boy looked like he’d barely set foot outside the Academy before they’d snatched him up. Katsuko softened despite herself. “What’s your name, kid?”
“Ichiba.” The boy pressed his face against the bars of his cell, blinking owl-like at her across the hall. His high-pitched voice wavered. “Genin, from Kusagakure. Who’re you?”
“I’m Katsuko, from Konoha. Nice to meet you, Ichiba.” She smiled soothingly. “We’re somewhere in Lightning Country. What’s a Kusa genin doing so far East?”
“I dunno!” Ichiba babbled. “We were in Waterfall when the attack...oh gods, Sensei--!”
“Hey!” Katsuko snapped. “Take a deep breath, kid. Don’t flip out on me again.”
“Why not?” Ichiba demanded, shaking. “My team’s dead! The people here, they’re going--they’re going to--”
Katsuko sighed and rested her forehead against one of the bars, feeling the exhaustion that ran all the way down to her bones. “I don’t know, Ichiba,” she whispered. “I don’t know. You don’t look like you have a bloodline limit, so it’ll be a while till they get to you.”
Ichiba was crying, big fat tears that ran from the corners of his eyes like rain. “I don’t wanna die,” he whispered.
“I won’t let them take you,” Katsuko promised, in a moment of profound stupidity. “I won’t, alright? I’m a chuunin, and it’s our responsibility to look out for our genin. So please, just, stop crying.”
He sniffled. “I’m not even from Konoha,” he pointed out.
Katsuko shrugged. “We’re all the same down here. How old are you, Ichiba?”
“I’ve got a brother your age. How about you? Any sisters or brothers?” She was babbling, but Ichiba seemed to be responding to her questions; he stopped crying, at least, which was a start.
“Got a sister,” he muttered at last. “Twin.”
“She a ninja like you?”
“Yeah. She’s back home, though, ‘cause her jounin-sensei’s still in the hospital.”
“Well, now,” Katsuko said, infusing her voice with false cheer. “You want to get back and see her again, don’t you?”
Ichiba nodded, eyes glistening again. She plunged ahead, ignoring the guilt twisting her stomach up in knots. “And it’s my job, as your superior, to make sure you’re safe. All you gotta do is hang in there, Ichiba, and I promise that help will come.”
He looked at her, hope returning some the life back to him. “Are you sure?”
“I’m sure,” Katsuko said, smiling. “I promise, I’ll get you through this.”
If she hadn’t been damned before she sure as hells was now, seeing the relieved smile that broke across Ichiba’s face like sun on a rainy day. Katsuko bit back the urge to vomit as the genin sagged in relief, eyes prickling as she tried her best to look mature, and in-charge, and all of those other things that would give Ichiba some measure of peace before the worst.
“You did well,” Hakuin said when she made her way back over, catching her hands in his when she reached for him.
“I lied like a rug, is what I did,” Katsuko mumbled, then shook her head. “Enough. I’m tired, old man. Think you’re up for the Parables tonight?”
“Does the sun rise in the east?” The joke was worn thin between them, but Katsuko still giggled at it and Hakuin still pretended offense. She was pressed close enough to the bars that he didn’t have to raise his voice, so she lay down on sticky rushes and shut her eyes as he began to speak.
“Once upon a time, there was a king of Asuras who covered the moon with his hands when he thought it too bright...”