Kakashi wondered, after Kannabi Bridge, if it was him that was going to need therapy, or Minato-sensei. It wasn't Obito dying, he knew; the knowledge of it filled out a long-hollowed out space in him that understood with renewed clarity what it meant for a shinobi to live with death. Kakashi had lost a teammate — Minato-sensei, a student. Trying to figure out which of the two was worse occupied the brief moments that Kakashi had to think in between one mission and the next.
The three-man remnants of their team had withdrawn back to Konoha with what speed they could muster with Rin shellshocked, Kakashi's entire cranium throbbing from the transplant, and Minato-sensei driving them onwards at a slavedriver's pace.
'We need to rest,' Kakashi had grunted out at some point, high up in the trees where the wind could sweep away the sound of their jagged breathing. Rin'd stopped beside him, her chakra-infused hands hovering close. She'd been propping him up for miles now.
'Kakashi shouldn't be pushing himself this hard, sensei,' Rin'd urged. 'Not so soon after such a major —'
'He can rest when we get back,' Minato-sensei had said, quiet, firm, and absolute. His eyes had only looked forward, because behind them was a battlefront and a corpse and the only way to go was on ahead. 'Move!'
Hatake Kakashi, jounin, reported to the Hokage the loss of one of his team-members; other than that, the enemy had been prevented from taking a critical position, and the mission at Kannabi could be called a success.
From beside him, Minato-sensei said under his breath, 'Do not spit at the Hokage, Kakashi.'
But Sandaime didn't say anything; he just glanced between Minato-sensei and Kakashi and then past them both. 'Very well. Rin, do you have anything to add?'
Rin, who had been staring fixedly at the floor, looked up. Her eyes were red. Kakashi flinched when she said, 'Kakashi failed to add one thing, Sandaime-sama.'
Sandaime raised his eyebrows.
'Kakashi-san,' Rin requested. 'Please.'
Kakashi stiffened, but complied with a sigh. He pushed his hitai-ate up over his left eye. The Sharingan throbbed.
There was an electric silence. 'I see,' Sandaime murmured in a long exhale, his fingers steepled together.
'Hokage-sama,' Kakashi said. 'Please. Let me be the one to inform the Uchiha Clan about their loss.'
Sandaime looked surprised. Kakashi battered down the beginnings of a hysterical smile: Sandaime was never surprised at anything: not at 6 year old chuunin or wars or death, but here he was, surprised at Kakashi wanting to act his rank instead of his age. Minato-sensei put a hand on his shoulder, soothing. 'I'll go with him.'
'No!' Kakashi said, somewhat louder than he'd wanted to. He pulled his hitai-ate back down over his eye, then added, more quietly, 'It's my responsibility as team captain. I'll bear the consequences.'
'With that eye, perhaps that's the best choice,' Sandaime agreed with a sigh. Minato-sensei's hand tightened on Kakashi's shoulder. The Hokage tossed the mission report down onto his table. 'It's settled. Kakashi, you will relay condolences the Uchiha. Have them look at your eye while you're there. Report back in three days for your next mission. Dismissed.'
Minato-sensei lasted two whole flights of stairs before he stopped and asked, 'Are you all right?'
Kakashi stopped mid-step to look up at his teacher. Normally he would have brushed the inquiry aside, but Minato had seen him through his father's death, his self-imposed and quasi-destructive training to pass the chuunin exam, the beginnings of a war, and now this first, spectacularly failed mission as a jounin. One or two requests about well-being could be... tolerated.
'I'll be all right,' Kakashi replied, and it wasn't half a lie. He had a reason to go on, after all — with Obito's death, it felt like all the rules and regulations of being a shinobi lay shattered in front of him. Kakashi squinted up at Minato. 'Will you? Sensei?'
'In some other world, this would be the right time for me to give you a piece of advice that'll make everything easier to bear, but,' Minato coughed up a laugh, 'it seems like you've got all the answers.'
'I didn't,' Kakashi said flatly. Kannabi felt like an aeon worth of mistakes ago. 'I learned that this mission.'
Minato quirked a smile. 'It's not a price I ever wanted you to pay for a lesson. Arrogance naturally wears off with puberty, but you're one step ahead, as usual.'
'Maa,' Kakashi said with a shrug. 'You're avoiding the question, though.'
Minato's hand darted out, faster than Kakashi could keep up with, and descended to ruffle Kakashi's hair. 'It's far too early for you to be worrying about me,' Minato said, engaging in an ages-old battle to force the spikes of Kakashi's hair to lay down flat. Kakashi endured the ignominy with a long-suffering roll of the eyes. They began walking again, but Kakashi stopped just before the exit 'Sensei. Just one question.'
Minato paused by the door. 'Ask.'
'How do you...' not live by a rulebook — not become scum — fix yourself. Kakashi hesitated. 'How do you move on when the rules say you should but when you don't want to?' He didn't know how else to put it, but by the softening expression in Minato-sensei's eyes, he didn't have to explain.
'Well,' Minato said, casting his gaze out east, towards the Memorial. 'Moving on doesn't mean forgetting. For everything else? Teamwork. Friends. Missions. Family.'
Kakashi's eyes widened slightly. 'Am I keeping you?'
'Eh?' Minato cocked an eyebrow. 'From what?'
Kakashi's mouth pulled itself into the beginnings of a smile. 'Uzumaki-san,' he sang quietly.
Minato rolled his eyes, but some tension eased out of his shoulders. 'You're a brat,' Minato huffed.
'So you've told me before,' Kakashi said, trying out another smile. It didn't feel like it fit his face, but if he could get used to war, he could get used to other kinds of bravery too.
Minato pushed the door open and strode out. 'Come with me to the flower shop.'
'What? Sensei —'
They went separate ways after dropping into Ino's shop; Minato-sensei headed for the residential district, Kakashi for the Memorial Stone, both of them with flowers in hand.
Reporting to the Uchiha with a Sharingan in his head wasn't the worst thing Kakashi had had to do in his life, but it came close. Obito's parents took the news with a passivity that made him ache inside; their expressions reminded Kakashi of the reflection he'd seen in the mirror every morning after his father's suicide. It wasn't indifference, but rather acceptance. They invited him in, poured him tea, sat him down at a table that had the family crest emblazoned on the woodwork.
Obito wasn't the first Uchiha that the War'd taken. He wasn't going to be the last. He wasn't even the best.
They didn't say any of that to Kakashi, but it hung in the air. When he pushed up his hitai-ate and opened his left eye, Obito's mother made a noise in the back of her throat that made Kakashi sick to his stomach.
'So it awoke,' Obito's father said, inadvertently reaching out to touch. 'Allow me to see,' he said, as Kakashi willed every fibre of his being not lean away.
'Fine,' Kakashi ground out.
Obito's father dropped his hand, and opened his eyes.
The verdict was that Kakashi's flow of chakra was now unbalanced. They brought him out to a well-apportioned training compound, one of many the Uchiha had scattered around the city. Obito's eye spun crazily in Kakashi's head as Obito's father made him go through the motions of taijutsu, ninjutsu, and genjutsu, both as an observer and observed. It felt like information was being dumped into his head: hand seals and increased visual input searing pathways in his memory that left Kakashi reeling. The watching Uchiha — and there was more than just Obito's father; Kakashi could feel the faint traces of their chakra signatures — never interrupted, as though the procedure of pushing a child through increasingly complex jutsu were standard fare.
'Your body isn't rejecting the Sharingan,' Obito's father told him afterwards as he blinked his eyes back to their normal black. 'But it doesn't have the innate physical ability to keep up with it, either. You'll have to train away the fatigue.'
'How?' Kakashi asked, pulling his hitai-ate back down. He couldn't just turn the Sharingan off, though god knows he'd tried, and it stung.
'By getting used to being tired,' Obito's father said sharply. 'It's the price of the eye's abilities.'
Kakashi didn't try to break the strangled silence that followed. Finally, Obito's father sighed roughly, and said, 'Uchihas don't exactly look favourably on sharing Sharingan, Kakashi-kun. Don't ask me how long it will take for you to grow accustomed to it when I don't know how long it would've taken Obito. Thank you for coming. Leave at your leisure; the gate will seal itself behind you.'
'Yes, sir,' Kakashi said softly in reply.
For some reason, Guy was waiting for him at the steps to his apartment when Kakashi returned, an unexpected but unmissable monument of green.
'Why are you here?' Kakashi asked flatly. Obito's father had been right: the eye was draining him of chakra, and the mission had done the rest for his frayed nerves. Escape by jumping up onto the rafters was impossible without risking a fall by exhaustion.
'We're eternal rivals,' Guy reminded Kakashi. 'Just because you made jounin doesn't mean that that changes!' Guy's beam could've stopped a deer in its tracks. Kakashi wondered, hazily, when the jumpsuit would stop being painful to look at. 'Though,' Guy said more soberly. 'I heard about Obito.'
'I don't want to talk about it,' Kakashi said brusquely.
'You never want to talk about anything,' Guy bemoaned. 'Kakashi! It is in the nature of youthful friendship to share one's —'
'Guy,' Kakashi cut in, pained.
'I booked us a training ground,' Guy ploughed on, undeterred by the abrupt change in topic. 'For tomorrow at 12 noon, when the sun is at its brightest and the conditions perfect for the most arduous and fantastic training!'
'A training ground?' Kakashi asked dumbly, wondering if the mission had just gone to his head or if he'd actually heard right. This was a strange kind of sympathy to be offering, even for Guy.
'Training ground 6,' Guy specified, a twinkle in his eye. 'With the magnificent range of dummies available for target practice. You'll need some before you get sent out again, jounin-sama.' Guy nodded at Kakashi's eye. 'To get used to the loss of your sinistral peripheral vision.'
Kakashi's hand flew up to the left side of his face. Guy was right; he could only track the motion half-way, and the thought of having the Sharingan exposed for the entirety of a battle made Kakashi vaguely ill just thinking about it.
Kakashi dredged up a smile. Guy flashed him a thumbs up. 'Don't be late!' he called out as he bound away, done with borrowing Kakashi's time. 'I'll see you at noon tomorrow, my esteemed rival!'
Kakashi shook his head and hauled himself upstairs. He was overdue a visit to the hospital, but Rin had resealed his wound just after they'd arrived back, and sleep seemed by far the best cure. He pushed the door to his apartment open, stiffening when he noticed something on his usually bare table. It was a box of ointment sitting atop a note. Kakashi recognised Guy's blocky kanji.
APPLY TWICE DAILY BY RUBBING VIGOROUSLY!! INTO SORE AREAS. VIGOROUSLY!!!
Sleep stole Kakashi away from the mild burn of his muscles reacting to the Mighty Rejuvenating Balm. Blackness was a welcome relief.
The war went on. Training went on as well. Time flowed on in a logical progression: missions, reports, trainings, rest days, all punctuated by visits to the Memorial Stone. It wasn't perfect, but it wasn't terrible, either. Somewhere between the layers of mental armour that all ninja had to throw up in a combat situation leaked the beginnings of a new sort of education: teamwork, teamwork, teamwork. Kakashi started to memorise faces, names, and ranks: the first of many new habits.
They initially let Kakashi stay with Minato on missions ranked A-class and above; there wasn't a better place to learn how to master the Sharingan than out on the field, so long as Kakashi didn't die.
Kakashi didn't die. Afterwards, he reflected that maybe he'd been too angry to die. Obito's grave was a punishing reminder of his own stupidity, quick to crush any thoughts of heroism or of suicide. He collected jutsu like most children collected stamps, filing them away for later practice against Guy.
After Kakashi stopped landing himself in the hospital after every other mission, they split him from Minato and sent him out with other, more dispensable jounin. There had been some wrangling in the Hokage's office about it: Minato-sensei and Sandaime arguing about whom he should go to. Kakashi had sent Pakkun to listen in from the rafters.
'You could put him with Jiraiya-sensei,' Minato had suggested.
Sandaime rejected the idea out of hand. 'Jiraiya works better alone. You wanted to teach him teamwork, didn't you? There's Orochimaru.'
'No,' Minato said, with force. There was a very long pause. 'Why are we trying to place him with one of the Sannin?'
'Because it's good for his pedigree,' Sandaime said loudly. Pakkun moved to escape, but not before hearing Sandaime go, 'Perhaps he would be better off with a normal team.'
Which was how Kakashi ended up with Nara Shikaku, greeting him and his team with a formal, 'I look forward to working with you.' No one had bloodline limits or aspirations to perfect S-class jutsu, and Shikaku never once tried to sneak teleportation tags onto any of Kakashi's equipment, unlike certain others he could name. It was a simple life of being treated like an adult instead of a disciple: they received missions, slept on hard ground, infiltrated or killed or captured or rescued, came back, and repeated it all over again in a strange, bizarre imitation of normalcy. After every mission, they trooped into a corner of a mess hall, the adults nursing tin mugs of moonshine while the teenagers practiced creative alchemy using combat rations.
It didn't remain very normal for very long: of their four-man cell, one of the chuunin — Kakashi's age — went on to be a hero, his name added to the memorial stone; the other chuunin was made ANBU in an effort to stop up their depleted ranks; and Shikaku went on to become Jounin Commander pro tem in a hasty but not thoughtless battlefield promotion.
Kakashi ended up in increasingly smaller cells as the mission room sized up his potential: a non-Uchiha affiliated Sharingan user endowed with the speed expected of one of Minato's students, and who had two natural chakra affinities at young enough an age that his appearance on a battlefield was as initially beguiling as it was deadly. Kakashi was an bargain: buy one, get five free. There was no shortage of assignments.
Kakashi could pinpoint the day the war ended, because that day he remembered how to be hungry.
The duration of the war had passed by in an endless, sickening flow of field rations. After that, reconstruction efforts had Kakashi out at all hours of the day, which meant that meals amicably shared in the communal makeshift dining halls. It'd been so long since Kakashi had had to make a run for personal groceries that when he went back to his still-chuunin-issue flat and opened the kitchen cupboards, he was met with a vista of cobwebs and darkness. It was a relief to have his biggest problem at hand be one so simple as hunger, but then came the glaring realisation that he now owned a completely empty kitchen.
Kakashi's stomached rumbled.
He shut his larder with a sigh, and reached for his wallet. Kakashi blinked down at its contents, and cast a despairing glance at the clock: 9pm, far past when administrative operations ceased at the Hokage's Tower, and none of the shops that would take his order on a tab would be open at this hour.
Casting his eyes heavenwards and consigning himself to his fate, Kakashi went to his window and leaped out, headed for the jounin quarter.
Minato-sensei opened the door when Kakashi was only midway through his second knock. 'What happened?' Minato-sensei asked immediately, voice kept down low and mission-level flat. Kakashi could feel the frisking he was being given: a quick, semi-invasive probe of chakra, followed by a sweep of Minato's eyes as he was scanned for physical injuries.
'Um,' Kakashi said, letting his hand drop down to his side. 'Nothing's the matter, sensei.'
'Oh?' Minato visibly relaxed, leaning against the doorframe with what looked like something dangerously close to fatherly affection on his face.
Kakashi felt his spine curving into the slouch of a guilty teenager. From beyond the entranceway, he could see the spill of light from a kitchen, and the smell of — curry?
Kakashi's stomach chose that moment to make ts dissatisfaction known again. Loudly. He hoped that his mask covered the spectacular shade of red that he was flushing.
'Ifyou'rebusysenseiI'llleaverightnow,' Kakashi got out all in one breath, mortified. 'I know it's late, but —' He paused. 'I don't have money right now.'
Minato's eyebrows had arched themselves upwards. 'Come in,' he said, tugging Kakashi into his house. 'Leave your shoes anywhere. Kushina!' he called towards the back of the house. 'We have a guest!'
'Uzumaki-san,' Kakashi greeted her awkwardly when Kushina emerged from the kitchen, an apron around her waist instead of a flak vest. Fighting A-Rank enemy nin had been a lot easier than figuring out what to do with himself, bowing shallowly in the dining room of the Namikaze household.
'Kakashi, is it?' Kushina greeted him, patting her hands on her apron to dry them. 'We were just going to settle in for a late dinner. Have a seat.'
Minato-sensei had one pulled out, with a look in his eyes that said sit or I'll make you. Kakashi sat. Minato put himself across the table. 'I saw Asuma-san and company near Ichiraku's, celebrating. Any reason why you're here instead of out with them or,' Minato corrected himself with a wry look thrown Kakashi's way, 'home alone and resting?'
'I'm out of food,' Kakashi started, 'And, well. Money.' He laced his fingers in front of him on the table and stared at them very hard. 'There haven't been too many paying missions the past year, and I returned home too late to go out for — I'm sorry, sensei.'
'Kakashi,' Minato-sensei said, cutting in gently. 'You're welcome here, at any time, and for any reason.'
'Minato,' Kushina said from the kitchen entryway, sending a wave of dangerous intent wafting their way. 'Have you been letting Kakashi starve?'
Minato and Kakashi turned as one to stare at her in horror. 'What?' Kakashi went at the same time that Minato-sensei went, 'No! Do you know how often I end up paying for ramen?' and then there was a blur of motion as a bowl of curry and rice deposited themselves on the table in front of Kakashi.
'Eat,' Kushina intoned, her hand on a suddenly lethal-looking ladle.
'Itadakimasu,' Kakashi said fervently, half out of hunger and half out of sheer fear at the look in her eyes, and tucked in.
An hour later, Kakashi was making faint objections as Kushina advanced on him with a glass of milk that would probably have been better described as a pitcher. 'Kushina-san, I won't be able to move if I have anything more.'
'Someone has to look after you or you won't fill out properly,' Kushina said, undeterred, putting the glass in front of Kakashi and directing a look at Minato, who had his hands raised in a gesture of surrender.
'Minato-sensei takes very good care of me,' Kakashi rallied bravely.
Kushina snorted. 'Teaching you jutsu and wearing your bones to bits, I'm sure.' Minato-sensei, from his place a few points beyond Kushina's range of vision, mimed the hand signs for a Silencing jutsu.
'The jutsus have kept me alive?' Kakashi tried meekly, sipping at the milk to keep from snorting. He hadn't bothered with the mask since dinner had started.
'You just let me know when you manage to eat chakra to survive,' Kushina smiled sweetly. 'What's that you're doing behind my back?' she asked Minato without turning.
'I'll do the dishes,' Minato-sensei said, choosing strategic retreat and fleeing for the relative safety of the kitchen.
Kushina waited for the sound of water running in the sink before she leaned in towards Kakashi. 'Kakashi,' she said, conspiratorial. 'Do you see the package there, on the top shelf?' She pointed towards a cupboard. 'I received it just today. Go get it.'
Kakashi obediently brought it over. It was a squarish, shallow box, and not very heavy.
'Open the cover,' Kushina urged.
Kakashi pulled the top off, and gently brushed apart the first layer of wrapping tissue. His eyes widened at what was underneath. 'Is this?' he asked, a little breathless, his fingers tracing the beautifully embroidered kanji that read fourth. 'Minato-sensei is...?'
Kushina nodded. 'That's why we ate so late tonight; he was wrapping up at the Hokage tower. Sandaime wants to retire.'
'When?' Kakashi asked, closing the box.
'Very soon, once reconstruction is complete,' Kushina told him. 'But the preparations are all done. The Council approved his nomination soon after fighting ended.' She smiled, warm and happy. 'Sandaime said it was a good time to pass his will of fire on to a new generation.' She lay her hands over his on the top of the box of robes. 'Why don't you give it to him?'
There was a sound of taps being shut, then Minato walked back into the room. 'What are the two of you gossiping about?'
Kushina pressed the box firmly into Kakashi's grip. Kakashi looked up at Minato, his heart ablaze with a mix of pride and happiness and the prospect of future loneliness, and said, 'Nothing, Yondaime-sama,' as he clasped both hands about the box and offered it forward, formal and respectfully aware of how things were going to change.