Fandom: Landel's Damned.
Warnings: Chaste kissing?
Word Count: 3203.
Characters: Haku POV, partially Artemis-centric; cameos of Schuldig, Badou, Farfarello, Sora, Kurt, Renamon, Kakashi, and nameless hordes. Mentions of Zabuza, and the Bleach Shinigami.
Notes: This was from December 2009; I forgot to add it. It shows the start of the camp the URTV pair happened on in the flashback. I was going to expand the last part more in details, but it seemed to work as it was so I left it. Naruto, Artemis Fowl, and Kingdom Hearts references; hopefully not too slaughtered. As well as lots of Damned CR, obv. And it turned out like fluff, which wasn't fully intended.
Summary: A place is a place unless you make it stick.
Loss had become something almost natural; transitions, close to soothing. There was a harmonic chaos in the way things ended. He knew this, accepted it. Took it as reality and moved forward. Each had been worse than the last; each took a piece of himself and ripped it away. With Zabuza, he had....
But the boy wouldn't think about that now. This loss was something close to progress, and he would accept it as such. Things had changed. The Institute had fallen, and the missing-nin had gained a new role to play. Because some things changed and some stayed the same. And Haku still had someone to protect.
The camp had been ridiculed at first, passed off as another failed attempt before starting. Artemis was clever, yes, the majority conceded, but they were hunted too fiercely to stay in one place. But pausing at the remains of Landel's Institute was no longer applicable--many had returned or showed up from the two other institutes destroyed, and such a large gathering in that place was doomed to fail. Haku, too, knew this. They needed a village, a home and guarded, but he doubted the existence of such a thing. But he no longer doubted Artemis and what he set himself to do. Two weeks after his paramour had recovered from his second experimentation set, Artemis had used his new-found skills to reach out and call to him. And unlike with Schuldig, this time Haku answered.
It wasn't long after that that Artemis seemed overtaken by some kind of need. It wasn't enough that the boy had family--assassins and ninja both. Artemis needed progress as well. Fulfillment of what was lacked. This, too, Haku understood. But he waited, biding, until Artemis decided what exactly it was that he needed to do. Fortifying their living space seemed an extreme step. Nothing was safe permanently--this was far too much that would knock down what they would set up. The sheer numbers of their enemy was daunting. They would destroy platoons to no regard--more would appear the next time they struck. And losing was no longer an option. Death was preferable to being taken away a second time--they had all remembered the sight of Artemis after he returned. No one would be taken. They promised this amongst themselves, to varying degrees of doubt.
Haku hadn't seen Artemis after, and this seemed to grate silently inside of him. Another person at that time, his unique skills added to the mix, and it could have been prevented. Almost certainly, he thought, it could have been prevented. But it hadn't been. Artemis would be quick to reassure him, smile in the way he only did when they were alone, and touch Haku's hair in brief comfort. "It turned out for the best, after all," Artemis would say with a bitter smirk. "They gave me a weapon that I can use."
In time, perhaps. For the most part, Schuldig's bindings stayed, prohibiting the ability to contact alone. He received too much, on too broad a scale, the red-headed man had explained once. Until he could withstand and control that much input, the guards were necessary. And they could be taken off, if truly needed. The ninja understood the premise but not the practice, and maintained diligence despite Artemis's confidence in Schuldig. Giving one control over yourself was nothing Haku could trust in full, especially pertaining to Artemis. Especially now, when the boy's almost manic need to be useful brought him more trouble than it was worth.
Artemis insisted; it was a simple plan.
"There's nothing simple about this, Arty." Reclining on a blanket on the ground, Schuldig sighed to underline the point. On the other side of the makeshift room, Badou stabbed a finger at the other. "Listen to the redheads. If we're not trigger happy about this, you know this shit ain't going down."
Artemis's jaw clenched discretely, and Haku need he was restraining himself from pushing his lengthened hair from his eyes. Artemis favored appearances, even and especially to his family, when they gave room for doubt. Haku had already argued schematics and achieved a few choice points. The rest was Artemis's, and Haku wouldn't question him further. There was something in Artemis that needed this, and Haku would help it evolve. For now, by silent support. Again a need was in this; Artemis himself needed to win this battle.
"You know it will work." This was directed at Schuldig and lacked any pleading. Facts stated, it seemed.
The Mastermind looked at his protege calmly. "I know you believe it'll work."
The boy was undeterred. Artemis had confidence in waves at the very least, feigned or not. "I know it will work."
In this room full of ones scarred as killers, no one moved. No subtle glances were exchanged; only silence remained. Artemis and Schuldig's gazes locked and held, a tacit communication passing through. Minutes ticked. Badou scratched at a sleeve and coughed. Haku still watched.
Schuldig moved his head a fraction to the side, breaking eye contact. Artemis sighed in exhausted relief, a quiet sound in the silence. Schuldig's voice kept the theme, soft and low. "Tell us your plan, Arty. Let them all know what you've cooked up."
The first steps were the easy ones, Artemis had said, and Haku didn't speak to him for a day. By easy, Artemis had meant that required little effort, only timing. Haku, however, didn't want anything to do with using Artemis as bait. Even if it wasn't only him that was hanging on the string.
For the months before, Artemis placed himself in the public eye. Going on supply raids himself, and making sure to be the last to leave, making known his face and motivations. Haku was hidden, the trump card in this step--their enemy could not be allowed to research his unique skills. The last known facts were that the two were separated. This needed to stay the same.
Farfarello, too, was going to be used as a target, being that his rages had already placed him high on the hitlist in these parts. Schuldig's presence was known, but had to be ignored for this to happen. It was the flaw if the enemy saw through it, but it was kept just the same. "You have ten seconds according to the kid," Schuldig had said with a head jerk at Sora. "His spells only last that long with the psychic disrupters they got."
Haku didn't need to be told twice. He ignored the man and went to find Artemis. The boy, once found, was combing his hair. He gave the ninja a nervous grin. "A distraction. I'd prefer a better role, but...."
Haku reached to take the comb from his hands, holding onto Artemis for a moment. "You'll be fine. I'll make sure of it."
The boy's smile widened. "I do know that, you know. I trust you." With everything I am, were the unspoken words. Haku didn't reply. He didn't have to. And he still wasn't sure if he deserved what hadn't been said.
Morning broke like daybreak cracking the sky. Farfarello and Artemis moved off base, speaking quietly about nothing. The Berserker hated the role, and had already wrung promises of destruction from Schuldig. The civilians in the group had been evacuated two weeks prior; the fighters had left under the cover of spells and abilities last night. Artemis's only complaint was that he hadn't been able to get in contact with the Shinigami. Their abilities were much better suited for this. Kurt and Renamon disagreed in their own ways--the teleporter resolutely pushing his own usefulness at the task, and the Digimon merely breathing a laugh. Artemis was nervous. He should be, Haku thought. There were a million places to go wrong.
From a tip-off placed an hour before, the Institute's central military branch had convened on the remains of Landel's, where Artemis's remaining group had circled back to. Artemis and Schuldig had created a sort of communicator between them. When it shut off, the signal was given. The army had convened, filters were on. Portable power nullifiers hadn't been seen yet, but the filters for telepaths and mental based people had been proven to work well in compact form.
It wasn't a long wait for the first line to advance on the pair. Artemis's fear at the line of guns seemed too actual to be feigned, and Farfarello's rage as he lunged forward was real enough in itself. Timing. Always timing. The guns were cocked up at the duo. Perched next to Haku on a tree branch, Sora held up his keyblade. "Stop."
For a moment, Haku thought he saw the hands of a clock pause over the clearing below. Then there was nothing but his line of sight, and four slender needles flying from his hands downward. Artemis and Farfarello hung in the air as the seconds passed, then dropped. The muscles in the ninja's shoulders tensed. Schuldig assured everything that this part was the actual easy part, but any kind of genjutsu could be canceled. Artemis's faith in the telepath was irritating, especially when it came to this.
A moment passed. The sound of guns discharging was loud and raucous in the morning light. The scuffle of boots seemed obscene. The fact that Haku had to remain still and not kill the one who kicked Artemis's body to see if the boy was dead seemed an overwhelming task. Next to him, Sora stared at Haku's expression, some kind of fear lying on the brunette's face. The ninja didn't care. All he cared about was the ones below finishing their rationalizing so this could be finished. The group seemed satisfied and laughed as they loaded the two into the flatbed of a truck. Dead or not, it didn't matter. Anyone could be brought back, after all. Explosions, flames, poisons, being struck through with many blades. There was no respite in death. There was no peace to be found here. Haku had learned this. After searching for Zabuza for over a year, he had learned this well.
That silence sings in waves.
The ninja left the Keyblade Master despite the boy's protests that they were to stay where they were. He flitted through the trees easily, keeping the truck in range. There wasn't anything that would allow him to let Artemis out of his sight. The second stage had already been set by the psychics and genjutsu users alike. Artemis was relying too much on those kind of things, and tricks were only kept permanent if they weren't found out. And there were too many holes. Especially if they didn't know the capabilities of the machine that disrupted mental abilities. And Haku was only allowed to watch. Those were his orders. And he still was a perfect tool.
He stopped when the truck did, melted into shadows against the tree to watch. The men seemed to shoot at random--so far, all had held--then something like a spark out of the corner of his eye. Moments were now seconds. Haku's gaze focused on Artemis's body.
Behind the line of men shooting, Kurt popped into being in a clap of displaced air. It was not heard over the shooting. Next to him, Renamon stepped into existence and moved forward. Both picked up one of their charges and left the way they came. Something lightened inside of Haku, and his eyes slid to the institute's ruins. It seemed like a fireball at first, the explosion bursting forward in heat and fury. The ninja leapt backward, calling an ice mirror in front of him as he did so. The shockwave propelled him back, slamming him against a tree trunk, mirror shattering. There was darkness for a moment or maybe minutes, and then Haku, once again, found himself looking at the charred ruins of a place he had known. This time the flickering embers were fresh.
Simple, Artemis said again as he recovered from the effects of Haku's needles placing his body into torpor. The boy had laughed weakly, and Haku didn't know whether to hit him or kiss him. In the time that Sora's spell was active, Schuldig would place a suggestion into the men's minds. That their bullets had downed the pair and that they hadn't fell moments before. That was all. The genjutsu set at the institute hadn't been a complicated one--once triggered, it showed targets, groups of people that had previously been seen with Artemis and his faction. The teleporter and Digimon were to retrieve the only two people that were actually supposed to be in harm's way. The bomb, Farfarello created flawlessly, which synched with the illusion would allow the thought for a last ditch effort.
"We promised, right?" Artemis rasped with a grin. "And they've heard us yell it enough." This was said pointedly at Badou, who, scratching the side of his face, seemed to ignore his nephew. "We'd rather die than be taken." The grin widened. "And we did."
Haku felt cold with something he couldn't name. "You're an idiot," he whispered, something too much like rage and affection lacing the words.
"And you," Artemis responded at once. "Are in trouble." A hand pointed to the bruises covering parts of the ninja. "Why were you so far away from your post?"
Haku leaned over Artemis threateningly, and the boy tried to boast bravado in return. "Because," Haku said carefully. "I told you I would make sure."
Artemis was quiet for a moment, then hesitantly closed the distance behind them, speaking into the other's lips. "I'm glad you did."
The rest was complicated; schematics and effort. There was already an area scouted--Artemis had sought it out and planned for it before he had ever spoke the words to another. Except, of course, for Haku, who had in fact been the one to find the place that fit Artemis's specifications. Secluded, closed off, but within a few days traveling time to a small town where they could trade or steal supplies. There was a process to it, Artemis had went on. A balance, but only possible if certain things were reached. The boy had the brain to run a small town himself; their village, as it were, was inside Artemis's area of capabilities. He would be able to keep it running, and the inhabitants taken care of, if they were able to keep it safe.
The physical safety gave only slight wariness. They had enough fighters, and would soon know the area better than anyone else. Attacking one in their own home was always a mistake. But the fact of fighting was besides the point. The plan called for more preemptive measures. They had died, after all. So they shouldn't exist.
While the boy had been planning, Haku had heard him muttering to himself in the night, mumbling about stealth ore and fairy shielding--neither of which were available where they were now. With the first experimentation under Artemis's belt, it was possible to think one might be pulled off. It was considered, then dropped. Possibilities remained impossible until the improbable took over instead. There were other things being considered.
In the end, it was a combination of things, prompted by an idle remark Haku made about Kakashi. They had the abilities necessary, to shield themselves and disillusion travelers. But they needed it on a grander scale, and they needed it to last longer than the user's stamina. And so it was mentioned that Kakashi could copy some of the moves.
From there on, everything slid into place.
In the open field near the actual campsite, Haku guarded watchfully as Artemis watched Sora and Kakashi, the third of so many sets in as many days. There were still more to go before they had a stable environment. But for now each step came with grace. To mirror a week ago, the Keyblade Master raised his weapon. "Reflect."
A glossy shine brightened around the boy to fade, but Haku's eyes were already on Kakashi, the man's sharingan taking in the details of the spell. It was completed instantly, and the older ninja gazed towards the young leader of their group. Solemn, Artemis nodded. A blade appeared in Kakashi's hand, no seemingly normal kunai. This was why they had waited a week, for these, the chakra blades, to be completed.
"It's short range," Sora was explaining, sounding almost like an apology. "And the amount of time it lasts is..." He trailed off, watching Kakashi instead. The man focused, then thrust the blade into the ground hilt deep, before stepping away. All eyes now watched that spot.
"Reflect," the ninja echoed quietly. Instantly, the same shine rose in a radius around the weapon.
Sora broke into a grin. "It worked!"
Trying hard not to do the same, Artemis nodded carefully. "It worked," came his reply, relief fiercely evident. Haku looked back at him, and Artemis smiled. It would work. If they were vigilant, and watchful, and refreshed their spells and shields and genjutsus, it would work. Reaching back, Haku took Artemis's hand.
"You're crazy," the ninja whispered, shaking his head. "Amazing."
Artemis grinned now, stage-whispering back, "Because of you! I would never have realized this completely without you." His hand squeezed Haku's. "This will work," came the confident affirmation. Again, unsaid words that Haku understood. It would work because Artemis would not allow it to fail.
Haku smiled softly, reaching his other hand to brush a piece of hair from Artemis's face. The ninja leaned in, face secretive. Artemis's face flushed despite himself. Haku's lips moved. "You need a haircut."
Caught off guard, Artemis sputtered, while Haku giggled behind a hand. Artemis mock-glared. "Well, excuse me. I guess with all of the role models around, I haven't thought much about it." He tugged a strand of Haku's hair. "And what about you? Or Badou? Or Schuldig for that matter." He frowned. "Why I am the only one with short hair?"
"I have short hair!" Sora called from where he was explaining his spells to Kakashi. Artemis stared at him for a minute. "You, my friend, also have hair that defies all forms of gravity." The Keyblade Master grinned and shrugged, going back to his task. Artemis sighed.
"I like it," Haku said softly, drawing Artemis's attention. The younger boy blinked. "No matter how you have it." Color rose to Artemis's cheeks again. He smiled self-consciously, clearing his throat.
"Well. What do you think, sir ninja? Are things progressing to your liking?" Artemis gestured to the area where the security measures were being set up, then back to the camp, where people were working to make it into something stable. A small little town. A village. Haku watched for a moment, watched the way that people's paths intersected with one another's, crossed and then moved past to intermingle with another; each passing and pausing with another, a flow of river on the rocks. A sea of snowflakes, each separate and identifiable, but together something larger.
It would be winter soon.
The ninja took a breath, then turned to nod at Artemis, a slight smile resting on his lips. "Yes," the boy said. "It's beginning to feel like home."