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Teamwork: A Teacher's Guide

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Hatake Kakashi woke to a brand new day.

...is how this story might have started, but actually Kakashi woke with a splitting headache on the floor of his dusty room inside ANBU HQ, and it was to a day that was looking rather weary around the edges.

Days, in general, were not usually lived twice.

But this one was.

Kakashi got up and checked the date. It looked as though he’d gotten it right, but he couldn’t be entirely sure. Space-time jutsu weren’t usually experimented with at this level.

He peered out the tiny, dingy window. Tsunade’s face wasn’t on the mountain, but Minato’s was. Hmm, promising.

There were three quick knocks. “Hatake, your mission report is two weeks overdue...” a voice came through the heavily reinforced wood of his door, sounding torn between hesitance and exasperation.

Kakashi tuned that out. Working quickly, he changed out of his black-and-bone armour and headed out - through the window, of course. Doorways were for amateurs.

Also, taking the doorway seemed likely to involve talking to the person on the other side of the door who wanted his report. There were more important things to do first. Or, just, you know.

In general.

As a rule, paperwork was kind of low on Kakashi’s list of priorities.

Konoha’s rooftops sped under him, streaming away with every powerful leap. It took him a few moments to get used to the feel of his younger body. Shinobi led hard lives and Kakashi was used to the feeling of that stamped upon him in the form of chronic aches, finicky joints and inflexible scar tissue. But now there were scars missing, among other things.

That ankle he’d gotten used to reinforcing with his chakra didn’t actually need to be reinforced.

...because nobody had jammed a senbon all the way through to the bone yet.

Huh.

Maybe he could avoid that, this time.

He had less chakra, too. His pool was only a little smaller than it had been before he’d abandoned the future, but his reserves were seriously worn. He remembered the ANBU days with a sudden clarity: back-to-back A-ranks, fast and messy solo missions, never stopping until he crashed.

It was very different to having his own genin team.

Kakashi dropped from a roof and stretched, feeling the cracks and pops in his spine where he carried stress. The memorial stone loomed, dark and familiar. He rubbed his fingers across the names he knew so well, but he didn’t say anything to Obito, didn’t murmur to Rin or beg Minato for guidance.

Time drifted as he contemplated the stone. Finally, he stood up. Having successfully time travelled to roughly the correct point in the time line, Kakashi was eager to stalk his cute students.

He left the stone. It, and all the mistakes that made Kakashi who he was, would still be there tomorrow.

And the next day.

He couldn’t time travel that far, after all.

Sakura was by far the easiest of his kids to find and also the most accessible. She was very... small.

He shook that off. Of course she was very small, she was only seven or eight. Her parents were civilians, which meant that her mother was at home, puttering around the house and garden at a snail’s pace while her daughter read in her room.

She hadn’t even begun to resemble the fierce woman he knew in the future. Right now she was all fluttering pink hair and white lace and tiny fingers. Hard to imagine she could kill a ninja with one hit.

Of course, she couldn’t yet. He wasn’t entirely certain she could actually hit yet, let alone do any damage.

He watched for a while, but he didn’t attempt contact, and neither she nor her mother ever noticed his scrutiny.

Civilians were strange creatures.

He left with none of them the wiser.

It wasn’t, strictly speaking, impossible to enter the Uchiha compound and spy on the second son of the clan head, but it posed a few more risks than Kakashi was really comfortable with. The idea that there were still about a hundred people with sharingan wandering around Konoha took some mental adjustment. So instead he walked past Gai’s favourite training grounds - which, somehow, had not changed, not in years and years, because Maito Gai was a creature of habit.

He pretended not to notice when Gai started yelling to him.

Kakashi let his Eternal Rival catch up with him just outside the walls of the compound.

Then Gai began speaking, and Kakashi put his filthy book away and made a vague noise of interest, which was a rookie mistake for anybody required to deal with Gai on a regular basis. The faintest hint of interest in - or even tolerance of - Gai’s loud orations on youth and spirit and guts generally meant getting stuck listening for a while.

In Kakashi’s case it was actually a good thing, relatively speaking, since it gave him an excuse to be standing right there when Sasuke ran through the gates.

Kakashi’s Sasuke, even before he went completely insane and fled the village with Orochimaru, was a sullen, supercilious, prideful little shit. Kakashi had never, ever entertained the idea of Uchiha Sasuke as a sweet-tempered, smiling, adorable child.

For a moment Kakashi suspected some kind of forbidden genjutsu, but then he remembered that Sasuke was, like Sakura, tiny and had virtually no ninja skills.

Which meant that at some point, he had actually been that small and cute and friendly.

Kakashi didn’t get much opportunity to witness this novelty, though, because Itachi was actually more cripplingly attached to Sasuke than he’d expected - which was saying kind of a lot. The elder brother, barely thirteen and already moving with the catlike grace of the ANBU, had keen senses and better instincts. Sasuke may not have noticed, but he was definitely being watched by more than just Kakashi today.

Itachi caught Kakashi’s eye briefly and a series of almost invisible expressions flickered across his face. He settled at last on field sign, querying if he was needed.

Kakashi let his right eye crinkle in a gentle crescent and waved one hand. He briefly lamented that there was no field sign for ‘no, no, do continue stalking your brother,’ and instead flashed him the all clear.

Itachi tilted his head for a second and then left, dogging Sasuke’s steps as though he was afraid somebody might take him away.

...which, uh, in hindsight...

Hmm. Perhaps Itachi had better instincts than anybody had given him credit for.

After succumbing to Gai’s insistence that it was Kakashi’s turn to choose the challenge (and subsequently winning at jan-ken-pon), he left the Green Beast climbing the Hokage monument with his feet tied together and went in search of his final student.

Naruto was...

Kakashi sighed.

He found him outside the orphanage, glowering sullenly at a bunch of kids who were running around screaming - presumably they were playing, although Kakashi had never been given much to playfulness as a child (except when it was enforced by his sensei, which -- well, never mind) and had no experience to draw from.

He perched on the fence of the orphanage and watched for a while.

Mostly Naruto just stared at the other kids and scowled.

At twelve, Naruto had been defiant and doggedly cheerful and a little bit prickly. At seventeen, he’d been a natural disaster on legs.

As a kid, he was just sad and resentful.

Kakashi stayed long enough to make sure that none of the kid’s physical needs were being neglected. He learned that Naruto was last in line for everything from food to bathing, that he was ignored until he shouted so loudly nobody could pretend they hadn’t heard, and that he was yelled at for very minor and occasionally fictitious infractions against the orphanage rules.

He was (mostly) fed and (sort of) warm and, if not happy, at least safe.

It would do.

Kakashi left.

 


 

He hadn’t given it more than a cursory glance before he left, but Kakashi’s room at ANBU HQ was identical to how he remembered it: tiny, cramped and functional. There was a bench and a single stove element in one corner, a futon in the other, an empty bookshelf and a dusty desk in the third. A door led to a closet-sized bathroom.

The only part of the room that really seemed lived-in and homey was the old blanket thrown across the futon, and that was only so familiar because it smelled like a pile of dogs had been there recently. Probably because they had. Kakashi sprawled on the bed with a leg dangling over the edge. He pulled out the copy of Icha Icha in his pocket and perused it absently. He’d read this one enough times that he could use it to occupy his hands and eye while more complicated thoughts ticked over in his head.

Kakashi was a little early in the timeline, really. He had to get access to Sasuke, but that would be virtually impossible until after the massacre - he wasn’t exactly on good terms with the Uchiha Clan after his appropriation of Obito’s sharingan.

He contemplated interfering in Sakura’s early development for a few moments, but it would surely seem suspicious for an ANBU captain known for being a loner to take such an interest in a young civilian girl.

He had more excuse for meddling with Naruto, he supposed. It could always be argue, should anybody ask, that the kid was Minato-sensei’s son and Kakashi was just checking up on him...

But Naruto wouldn’t end up on his team if he wasn’t the dead last.

He sighed. It would be best not to interfere.

 


 

 

Kakashi had known the massacre was soon, but he hadn’t expected it to be quite so soon. He found himself called to the scene with Uzuki and Tenzou the next night.

Everybody knew that Sasuke was the only survivor, but time had blunted Kakashi’s memory of the event.

The bright moonlight leeched all the colour from the compound, and the bodies of the Uchiha clan lay slumped and broken, strewn carelessly across the grounds like abandoned chew toys. The ANBU mindset was one that saw targets, not people - but knowing Sasuke, knowing Itachi’s circumstances... Kakashi found the ANBU mindset harder to fall into.

Maybe he was out of practice. He and Tenzou prowled between the bodies, watching Uzuki’s back while she tended Sasuke.

He breathed and murmured, but he didn’t wake up. It would be weeks before Sasuke woke up.

It was little wonder he was such a giant pain in the butt as he got older.

When they reported back to the Hokage, Sarutobi looked weary, but not as though he’d just knowingly allowed the slaughter of several hundred of his own people. Kakashi wasn’t sure what to think about that. Being the Hokage was a terrible job most of the time, but the Uchiha massacre was...

Difficult to comprehend.

The Sandaime Hokage made no mention of wishing to see Sasuke, or of wanting to be kept updated on his status, just like last time.

Last time, Kakashi hadn’t wondered why and didn’t bother asking. It wasn’t his job.

This time, he didn’t have to ask.

Itachi hadn’t really wanted to permanently injure him, after all. He’d recover.

 


 

If Sarutobi wasn’t going to be there, Kakashi would. When Sasuke woke, Kakashi knew shortly after the doctors. He spent an hour hashing it out with Obito at the memorial stone, wondering if he was really doing the right thing.

(Obito didn’t answer. Typical.)

Still, he thought, staring at the monument with his good eye, Sasuke wasn’t the only person who’d lost his whole family young. Their deaths weren’t even as hideously unfair as the White Fang’s had been - although he supposed Sasuke didn’t - couldn’t be allowed to - know that.

Kakashi’s thoughts whirled like a dog chasing its tail. He had strong feelings about Sasuke -coming back, he’d had half a mind to fix half of their problems by killing him in his sleep. He wasn’t without empathy, but at some point the kid had to be accountable for his own bad decisions.

His many, many bad decisions.

Really, from the massacre onward, Sasuke was nothing but a giant pile bad decisions smacking into other bad decisions. A veritable pinball game of poor judgement.

It took him a few minutes to remind himself that Sasuke hadn’t made any of those bad decisions yet. He wasn’t even a genin. He’d only been conscious for an hour.

Kakashi rubbed his eye and sighed.

How the hell was he meant to talk to Sasuke? Who was he even kidding, he didn’t know how to do this. Even aside from his own mixed feelings on the matter, Kakashi didn’t like children. He couldn’t talk to them. He hadn’t even known how to talk to kids when he was a kid.

Maybe they could just lock Sasuke up until after Orochimaru was dead.

“Sound in theory, but the Hokage would probably have a lot of questions,” he muttered to the memorial stone.

Kakashi picked himself up and got going.

Of course, when he climbed through the window of Sasuke’s hospital room, he’d been thinking about twelve-year-old Sasuke with his glowers and scowls.

The person on the bed was drowning in a sea of crisp white linens, tiny and tense and hunched over with his hands covering his ears.

Yeah, Kakashi had no idea what he was doing here. He looked at Sasuke and thought fondly of leaving to beg Sarutobi for a nice A-rank.

 


 

When Sasuke woke up, there was nobody to visit him.

He had no family.

He was ...an orphan.

There was a doctor, who came in and checked his head with a pulse of chakra and a few half-mumbled comments. She adjusted his IV and left just as swiftly as she’d come.

Sasuke sat up in his hospital bed, but he hadn’t been told he was allowed to leave yet. He couldn’t think clearly, and there were holes in his memory, but he felt strangely calm.

He could hear a clock ticking from somewhere in the room. He wrapped his arms around his knees and tried not to think of a cool voice counting down the seconds.

Seventy hours, forty seven minutes and fifty-nine seconds left.

Sasuke put his hands over his ears.

Maybe if he just kept them there...

He wasn’t sure how much time had passed when a strange man in a mask climbed through his window. Sasuke’s eyes flicked to the Konoha hitai-ate. He watched him pick up his medical report and examine it.

He saw the man‘s mouth move under his mask and cautiously lowered his hands from his head to hear the last of his sentence: “...been some genjutsu,” he said.

“Genjutsu?” Sasuke repeated.

“Mmm?” the man looked up. He had truly ridiculous hair.

There was more silence. Sasuke watched the man, and, after a while, the man put down his file and watched him back.

“I don’t know you,” Sasuke said finally, when the ticking of the clock felt unbearable.

“Ahh...” the man scratched the side of his face. “Nope,” he agreed. His only visible eye curved into a little crescent. Was he smiling?

Sasuke didn’t know where to go from there. He frowned and looked away.

The man sighed.

The clock ticked.

“My best friend was from your clan,” said the man suddenly. Sasuke looked back at him and realised that visible eye was twitching a little.

There was a long, awkward silence. “...right?” said Sasuke eventually.

The man scratched his ridiculous hair. “My family’s dead, too,” he added.

Sasuke looked at him blankly. “I... see.”

“Maa... well, it doesn’t go away, but it gets better.”

Sasuke felt his own temper soften a little. Whoever this nutjob was, he was clearly trying.

...trying what, Sasuke didn’t know.

“Aa,” he said, and hoped he was a little reassuring to the strange man.

That visible eye crinkled into a smiling crescent again and the man headed for the window.

“Wait!” Sasuke’s voice was loud. It surprised both of them. The man turned, eyebrow raised. “...can you take the clock with you?”

The man paused, and for a second there was a sharp, weighty understanding in his single eye. “Aa,” he said softly.

He left with the clock.

The silence was deafening.

(Better. But deafening.)