Sometimes Kakashi forgot the existence of his left eye. Or at least that's what Sakumo assumed was the problem.
If anyone were to ask Sakumo how that happened, the man had no explanations. Sakumo wasn't the most attentive of fathers, but he did his best whenever he was off duty to bond with his son. But whatever happened whilst Sakumo was deployed out on a mission, he had no control over. In fact, when Sakumo woke up one morning back from a grueling mission, Kakashi was already walking around the house with one eye shut, gliding down the hall much too confidently for that to have been a recent development.
Sakumo stared at his kid for a paused second.
" Uhh, Kakashi, is something the matter with your eye?" Sakumo asked when he finally worked out why Kakashi looked different than usual.
The five-year-old only gave him a curious glance. "No?"
" Then why do you have it shut?"
When he pointed it out to Kakashi, the kid jolted in surprise, and slowly, ever so slowly, his eyelid peeled open as though he hadn't realised it was closed in the first place. The best Sakumo could say was that Kakashi woke up one day and forgot to open one eye.
"Huh," Kakashi had murmured to himself, looking vaguely sheepish, but he never elaborated.
In fact, he still wouldn't elaborate even when he then proceeded to continue forgetting to open his eye from that moment onwards.
Sakumo tried his best to remind his precious son of the essential organ during the days he was home in between missions. But honestly, it didn't get better from there on.
On the days Kakashi did remember, whenever Sakumo watched Kakashi open his eyes, his right always seemed to lead. The left eye followed a millisecond later as though he was actively trying to remember to use it as well.
For the sake of his worry, Sakumo soon managed to drag Kakashi to a physiatrist.
" Here you go," the doctor said when their session was over.
Sakumo stared at the object in his hand. "An eye-patch?" he wondered out loud.
Beside him, the doctor nodded, kneeling down to Kakashi's level, a kind smile on his face. "Kakashi, I want you to cover your right eye, alright? From what I'm hearing, you're depending too much on your right," the doctor explained, "Wearing the eye-patch will help force you to use your left eye more often."
Kakashi nodded without voicing any complaints, but when the two Hatakes made it home, Sakumo could see his son was still staring dubiously at the eye-patch, refusing to put it on.
When the man finally gave into his concerns and begged the kid to try it at least a month, "Please, for me, son?" Kakashi was compliant, or at least willing to satisfy his father.
Since Kakashi promised to use it, he did use it. Although, he did place it on the wrong eye a few times. Other times, he placed it on Pakkun, claiming he was experiencing its effects vicariously. Then, the moment the month was over, he promptly lost the thing all together with an innocent "Mmm? What eye-patch?" on his lips whenever Sakumo asked about its disappearance.
Well, at least Kakashi tried, Sakumo supposed. It was better than nothing.
One day, Sakumo reckoned Kakashi decided 'whatever', and pulled down his headband into a tilt so that it covered his one eye completely. Sakumo supposed that was one way to get out of being constantly hounded about his odd forgettance of his left eye. Because while Sakumo himself had stopped nagging his son about it, that didn't mean the other people in the village had as well.
"You know, you're going to have a disadvantage with that depth perception loss and blind spot," Sakumo pointed out when Kakashi had first pulled it down. The fact that Kakashi actively covered his eye rather than merely shutting it worried Sakumo. Before, if Kakashi ever needed to see with both eyes, all he needed to do was open his left. Now, if Kakashi wanted to open his eye, he would have to go an extra step of pushing up his headband. And frankly, in battle, every second counted.
" I'll get used to it," the kid replied.
" It'll take a while," Sakumo pointed out logically, because compensating for the sudden loss of vision took years to perfect.
Kakashi only gave him an amused little smile in response.
It was eerie how quickly the five-year-old adapted. Had Sakumo not know Kakashi wasn't half-blind, he would've assumed the kid was accustomed to working with only one eye, falling into habit like that was how he'd spent the past five years of his life. If anything, Kakashi seemed to be working more comfortably with half his vision. What was Sakumo supposed to think about that?
Either way, Sakumo, the kind, worrying father he was, tried one last time to convince his precious son to use both eyes once more – because as proficient Kakashi was at using one eye, surely it would come and bite him in the ass one day when he least expected it? If both of Kakashi eyes were fine, what could possibly convince anyone to cover one?
"To remember," the kid said quietly, staring off into the distance. It didn't make much sense to Sakumo, but there was a sort of pained finality in Kakashi's tone as well that made it impossible for Sakumo to continue his line of questions.
Reluctantly, Sakumo decided to leave it at that.
There wasn't much else Sakumo could do, and he supposed he could accept his son's choice - as long as Kakashi didn't forget about the existence of his right eye as well.
At first Kakashi seemed to lose his touch at lying. Sakumo didn't let it bother him too much. The kid was five, for crying out loud, and while lying was a necessary skill for ninjas, Sakumo just glad Kakashi was still acting like a child.
Sakumo would've been more concerned if it affected Kakashi's missions, but really, missions? What missions? Kakashi was only slated to graduate in a few months from now. It would be ages before the kid's new sensei would allow Kakashi something more difficult than a D-rank. Let the kid have his slump – maybe it was from the stress of soaring though his entire Academy career within a single year?
Besides, it wasn't like there was anything too odd about Kakashi's latest batch of lies. Kakashi just seemed to have developed a habit of citing excuses of things he would normally never do.
Like that one time when Kakashi replied, "To talk to friends," when Sakumo inquired where the kid was going.
Sakumo was glad to say he only barely froze at the word 'friends'. Because, the thing was, no matter how much he adored Kakashi to the point where he was almost blind to the kid's faults, he knew the boy was a loner. Kakashi never had friends before, and with his constant insistence that friends would only drag down his training time, Sakumo was pretty sure Kakashi still didn't have any. So honestly, no one could blame Sakumo for tailing after his son. As he had expected, Kakashi spent the day alone. Oddly enough, Kakashi spent it in front of the Memorial Stone of all places, but alone all the same.
The rest were along similar lines.
Still, the lies weren't too outrageous. In fact, if Sakumo didn't known his own kid as well as he did, he doubted he would've realised them in the first place. So really, Sakumo didn't see much of a problem there.
Anyways, he expected that perhaps in a few weeks or so, things would be all better again. Kakashi always bounced back up quickly.
So, it was surprising when that never happened. In fact, Kakashi's excuses soon got even more ludicrous – to the point where Sakumo had to double-take Kakashi's words at times.
"There you are, Kakashi," Sakumo exclaimed, when his son finally, finally, made his way into the kitchen where Sakumo had beckoned him from. "Where have you been? I swear I called you an hour ago."
Kakashi gave a shrug. "I was lost on the road of life."
There was a momentary pause as Sakumo tried to work out the boy's words. Forgetting whatever 'the road of life' was supposed to mean, "You got lost."
"… Inside our house."
"Our house." Sakumo really had to wonder how much of that pitiful look Kakashi gave him was genuine.
Sometimes, Kakashi didn't even bother explaining his reasoning. Or at least not adequately enough because Sakumo was certain he was left with more confusion that if he had just never asked in the first place.
" You did what?"
" Sorry I'm late," Kakashi repeated with a shrug, "I was making a list of all the stores that sold orange jumpsuits."
" Why?" Sakumo almost didn't want to know.
" I plan to burn them all nine years from now," Kakashi said casually.
Nine years was an oddly specific amount of time.
" Why?" Sakumo managed to croak out again.
" It's for the better of Konoha."
And then eventually, Kakashi's lies became complete and utter nonsense. Sakumo honestly wondered if Kakashi was even trying anymore.
Sakumo stared at his son as Kakashi strolled nonchalantly into the room sporting a navy blue mask on his face. "What's with the mask?" he asked as calmly as he could.
" How else will I hide my protruding buck teeth?" Kakashi answered, equally as serious.
Honestly, Sakumo wished he heard wrong. " Sorry, what?"
Kakashi looked thoughtful. "Hmm, my blimp lips?" he tried again.
" But you don't …."
" Blue tongue?"
Sakumo frowned. "Kakashi, did someone prank you?"
" Why would you say that?"
The older man rubbed the throb building between his eyes in exasperation. "Why else would you suddenly wear a mask to cover up things you don't have?"
There was something a little too innocent in Kakashi's eyes when he cocked his head thoughtfully. "Mmm? But I always wear a mask."
" I'm positive you don't," Sakumo said slowly, not certain why he was giving Kakashi's statement even a second of consideration. Sakumo should know Kakashi didn't, seeing as he raised the kid and all.
" Maa, I'm pretty sure I do."
Sometimes, Sakumo found himself completely justified in placing a hand against Kakashi's forehead and checking for a fever. Daily. He'd also considered testing for possiblegenjutsu as well, but maybe that was a tad overkill.
In the end, it turned out Sakumo hadn't needed to worry as much as he did. It seemed Kakashi still know how to spout plausible lies when he felt like it, even if it was few and far between.
"So I didn't need to dye my hair a bright colour and wear outrageous clothing to show the Academy students the level of stealth a Jounin possessed, regardless of our attire," Sakumo confirmed slowly. "It wasn't you who asked Kakashi to find a Jounin capable of presenting this."
Minato grimaced, chuckling awkwardly. "I'm sorry, Sakumo-san," the man said, apologizing for his newly-received student.
Sakumo shook his head. "No, that was my fault. I should have realised. Not sure why I didn't think something was a little odd with Kakashi's request." Actually, no, he knewexactly why he didn't – because Kakashi gave him a perfectly reasonable explanation. One that lack all the absurdities his usual lies had come to comprise of.
So frankly, for all Sakumo knew, maybe this was the norm for growing children. Perhaps some sort of pre-rebellious age oddity or something. How was he supposed to know?
Sakumo soon learned to stop dwelling on it.
Before the whole problem began, Sakumo initially thought he was giving Kakashi the talk much, much too early.
But hey, Sakumo had thought to himself, Kakashi was a Genin now, and for all he knew, the kid would be a Chunin in a few years' time. If Kakashi was old enough to kill, he was old enough to learn about sex. Besides, Kakashi would have to learn about the Birds and Bees sooner or later.
Kakashi was five, hardly, hardly even a preteen, so Sakumo had been expecting to explain everything to the kid before he finally realised what exactly sex meant. And then cue Kakashi's furious blushing. If anything, that was reason enough to give him the talk.
Things did not go as planned.
Sakumo did not expect Kakashi's knowledge to surpass his own.
Sakumo did not expect Kakashi to turn the educational session to a lesson about the more active side of sex.
Sakumo did not expect Kakashi to nonchalantly talk about porn in such an innocent tone.
" Educational-wise," the five-year-old continued causally, staring at Sakumo with wide doe-eyes, "porn is useless. But I suppose its purpose is entertainment. Most erotica writers tend to defy the constraints of the human body. Foreplay tends to be glossed over, along with the necessities like the use of lubricants. You'd think they didn't know the basics of sex with the way they write. The best written piece of work would be by that one author …-"
Sakumo blamed Jiraiya.
"It wasn't me!" was the first thing out of the Toad Sage's mouth when Sakumo stormed up to him, eyes ablaze. Never mind the fact Jiraiya had no idea what was going on.
" What have you been teaching my son!?"
The white-haired sennin scampered backwards from his friend, hands held up in a surrendering gesture. "What are you talking about, Sakumo? I promised you I wouldn't teach him any advanced jutsu, and I haven't! If you caught Kakashi trying to practice one, it wasn't me who taught him."
That was great to know, Sakumo supposed, but that wasn't the issue here. Not this time. Sakumo tilted his head, regarding his friend with a dangerous stare. "That's not the problem and you know it," the man growled.
Jiraiya was genuinely bewildered; what else was the little brat interested in that Jiraiya could teach him? "I don't know what you're talking about," the Sage confessed.
" You corrupted my son!"
" How does my Kakashi know about those filthy novels you always read?"
Fortunately for Jiraiya, he was actually innocent, so Sakumo had to eventually forgive the man. Still, that didn't explain how Kakashi was introduced to it.
Sakumo tried to discreetly project his disapproval about the topic without seeming too abrupt or harsh – he didn't want Kakashi to think he did something wrong, after all. Yet, Kakashi never seemed to get the hint no matter how many times Sakumo tried whenever the subject was brought up; the subject that Kakashi somehow got the impression was fine to talk about in public.
Sakumo really didn't want Kakashi to grow up to be like Jiraiya.
" Kakashi," Sakumo started, when he knew he needed to address this issue sooner or later, and honestly he had been putting it off for too long already, "we need to talk about … about Jiraiya's bad influences." He had to stop Kakashi from emulating the man.
The boy tilted his head in response. "Shouldn't you be talking to him, then?"
Sakumo shrugged before carrying on. "How do you view Jiraiya?"
A second ticked by before Kakashi answered, looking like he swallowed his first instinctive response. "He's strong shinobi," they boy finally said.
" Yes he is," Sakumo agreed, but that wasn't the answer he was looking for. He tried to drive to the topic discreetly. "Have you seen any of his … habits?"
" He trains a lot?" Kakashi replied, suddenly looking a bit too amused.
There was a pause as Sakumo tried to word his question better. "Has he ever talked to you about his 'research'?"
Kakashi hummed thoughtfully. "Does he research new jutsu?"
Clearly Kakashi had no idea what Sakumo was talking about if he didn't catch any of those hints. Sakumo let out a sigh in relief. "Never mind, Kakashi. I know you look up to Jiraiya, and if that's all he's shown you, that's good. Don't mind me."
" Jiraiya's a good role model," Kakashi offered readily.
Sakumo nodded in agreement. And then Kakashi's face broke out into an impish smile. "Oh," Kakashi added suddenly, as if struck by an afterthought, "also, did you know Jiraiya's attempting to write a porn series called 'Icha Icha'? Even in its drafting stages, the writing's not bad."
Sakumo leaped from his seat, a "What?!" tearing from his throat.
Kakashi nodded sweetly, "It lacks a solid plot, though."
Sakumo darted out the door a second later, in chase of the Sennin he knew was still in the village. How else could Kakashi have known about and read any drafts of Jiraiya's unless the man had shown it to the five-year-old himself? What was he thinking, forgiving the pervert?
On his part, Jiraiya continued to try and deny everything to no avail.
The night was stifling quiet. Sakumo never noticed it before, but lately silence brought out the worst of the voices in his head, screaming angrily and bitterly at the things he'd done.
Sakumo supposed he should've been used to it – ninjas were notoriously haunted by the ghosts of death. But, Sakumo supposed, if it were only that, he wouldn't be in the situation he was in now. Because it weren't the voices of the dead who was bothering him, but the voices of the living – of those he'd staked his life for.
The jeers and scorn thrown at him in the mornings would follow him to bed, where they'd repeat over and over again like a broken record in his head.
Sakumo would've lost his mind already had his son not been there, seemingly so much more mature and resolute than ever.
" Yo," was the voice Sakumo heard before a dark brown coloured mug invaded his vision.
" Pakkun, what are you doing here?" He paused. "And in my bed," Sakumo felt the need to add.
The pug shrugged as well as a pug could shrug, before butting the man so he would scoot over. "The brat summoned me. I'm here to move things." There was a small pillow smeared with Pakkun's saliva that the dog nudged over to the side he'd claimed.
" Why? For what?" Sakumo wondered.
Pakkun gave him a stare. Even without being able to see himself, Sakumo knew how he looked like. He'd been losing sleep, losing weight, losing the drive that once drove him to become the strongest shinobi in the village. He'd been rolling and moaning pitifully in a sleepless nightmare before Pakkun had greeted him.
" I'm fine," Sakumo defended himself meekly.
" Che, humans," Pakkun responded.
And then Kakashi's presence was in the room. His hands were overflowing with his blanket as he made his way over. "Pakkun, did you bring my pillow?"
" Of course."
The bed dipped as Kakashi climbed on, burrowing himself in both his own and Sakumo's blankets as he settled down. Pakkun curled by their feet.
Sakumo frowned. "Kakashi, what are you doing here?"
" Sleeping," was the bland answer.
" Don't you have your own room?"
" Hmm, do I?" the kid wondered idly, without a care, "Too late now. Too comfortable to move."
With an exasperate sigh, Sakumo let Kakashi hog all the blankets and sleep there for the night. He didn't remember having another nightmare.
After that night, if Kakashi continued to climb into his bed whenever the nights were bad, Sakumo didn't complain about it anymore. He just smiled extra brightly the next day, and gave Kakashi a tight, thanking hug.
Still, despite Sakumo desperately trying to hold out for the end, it seemed like things never got better. The rumors never died down, and if anything, only became more twisted and outrageous as it was passed from mouth to mouth, as rumors were prone to do – especially rumors of those whose name everyone knew of, despite lack of personal familiarity.
All this because of one lousy mission – and one Sakumo had thought he'd done the right thing for too. But maybe he was wrong. Maybe he wasn't the type of shinobi the people wanted. And if that were true, then what had he been doing his whole life?
Had he already failed as a ninja when he tried to push his own ideals onto the career path he'd chosen? Had he been living his whole life as a lie? If a tool of a shinobi was what the village wanted, then why was he here?
No one wanted broken tools. No one needed broken tools.
And a broken tool was what he was.
" Stop thinking," Kakashi said, startling Sakumo when he slipped off into a dazed stare.
Sakumo blinked back into reality. "Ah, Kakashi? Something wrong?" he asked.
The boy gazed steadily at him. "You know, we're really similar."
" Oh?" the man considered his son's statement, wondering why he was bringing it up. "I do admit, you took a little too much of my genes – you could be my clone," Sakumo joked, no matter how strained his laughter seemed nowadays.
Kakashi shook his head. "We both keep forgetting to focus on the present where we're needed."
" Is something wrong?" Sakumo worried once more, trying to figure out why Kakashi considered himself to be one who dwelled too much in the past. Sakumo frowned. "And aren't you supposed to be with your sensei?" he added as he recalled the day and time.
" Minato-sensei can wait."
" Are you skipping training?"
Kakashi shook his head. "I have more important things."
" Like what?"
" Being here," Kakashi said, eyes pinning Sakumo in place. "And reminding you I'm still here. And Jiraiya as well, and Minato-sensei, and Hokage-sama, and so many others you can't see because you're letting the past haunt you instead of focusing of what you have."
Sakumo didn't know how, but Kakashi seemed much too familiar with the way he was feeling. Maybe it was this understanding that made Kakashi's words resonate so much deeper in Sakumo when he heard them. They echoed and drove away the lingering monsters in his mind for the next few days to come.
But, of course it was inevitable that the constant scorning and gossiping around him eventually managed to force its way back in his conscience with its overpowering presence. Short of barricading himself inside his home, there was no way Sakumo could escape from the villagers' ever-judging whispers.
But once more, Kakashi saved him with his soft smiles, loving gazes, and insistent pleads.
"Don't leave me," Kakashi would say, so utterly soft in adjacent to the usual "Ittekimasu," whenever he left the house for training.
Kakashi refused to budge if Sakumo forgot to promise. He wouldn't either if Sakumo didn't sound sincere.
Sakumo was certain Kakashi was trapping him somehow, locking him from proceeding to some sort of ending Sakumo had still yet to consider. Whatever it was, all Sakumo knew was that he couldn't break his promise with his precious son – not when it meant so much to the kid that he had to repeat it day in and day out, accepting nothing but genuine vows in response.
Sakumo supposed he should be worrying more about what Kakashi was fearing by making him pledge the same thing each day. But somehow all Sakumo could feel was the swelling of his heart because everyday, over and over, Sakumo realised Kakashi's words were telling him how much he loved him.
It seemed even if the whole world was against him, his son would always be there. And in response to that, Sakumo would never fail Kakashi's simple wish - He would never leave Kakashi.