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Reflection

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When Kakashi wakes, it’s to the dreadfully familiar, water-stained ceiling tiles of a hospital room.

Even before he’s fully conscious, he runs through basic self-diagnostic tests - no serious injuries internal or otherwise, sore muscles and nausea rolling in his stomach, chakra coils unburned and chakra reserves somewhat low but better than nothing, wrists and ankles restrained with chakra dampening chains, wearing nothing but a hospital issued shirt and cotton pants, no weapons or gear in sight, and a tightness in his throat and burning in his eyes that he doesn’t want to admit are a product of old nightmares.

The smell of antiseptics stings his oversensitive nose and the bright whiteness of everything is eye-watering, but he manages not to panic and instead focuses outwards with more effort, relying less on sharpened instincts and ingrained reflexes to assess his surroundings.

The hustle and bustle of a big city are background noise to the heartbeats and footsteps that periodically pass by his hospital door. A glance outside and a whiff of fresh air streaming from a crack in the window tell him enough, that he is in Konoha (or a very good genjutsu of one, he’s still testing the room with subtle spikes of chakra) and on a higher floor of the main shinobi hospital in the heart of the village. He ignores the strange, lingering scent of incense and saltwater and spice, can’t let himself fall into a trap because it smells suspiciously familiar and like something that will break him if he tries to figure it out (but he already knows, he’s not one of the best trackers in the nations for nothing after all, and he’s also the best at denial so guess which one he chooses to be better at now?) and so he ignores it, deems it unimportant but always in the back of his mind.

The restraints are easy to slip out of, ridiculously so his mind tells him suspiciously, and so is detecting the almost-not-there wisps of not chakra but presence he can sense in the outermost reaches of his senses (ANBU, this is a test, it’s always a test, but for now he will not answer for what) and comprehension dawns on him when he nears the exit.

Seals.

Well done seals, by the looks of them, subtly framing the door (and probably window) and etched faintly into the wood with chakra. He doesn’t dare prod at them in fear of invoking most likely debilitating consequences, especially if they were made by the person he thinks they were - years of sporadically taking an interest in Jiraiya’s seals and then nearly a decade of riding Minato’s coattails have taught him this lesson well.

Fortunately, Kakashi has a way around that beneath the eye patch the hospital had so thoughtfully provided him.

A quick Kamui - and missing door - later and he casually slithers away from his prison to a place he can breathe without the deep-seated ache making his muscles tremble, somewhere he could think without a strange fog clouding his mind while another Kakashi lays in his place, solid but as fake and fragile as he feels.

He supposes he could just leave now and give himself a better chance of escaping undetected, but he has important things that have hopefully not been taken to Hokage Tower.

He finds the supply closet used for medical staff to change quickly if they are called to the field and swipes a standard uniform, finds his own things in a locked, sealed, and guarded room in a hidden section of the building (but he’s been playing this game for too long, knows this hospital too well, and isn’t that just sad - that this hospital-genjutsu-hallucination knows how many times he’s been here, how long he’s stayed in these rooms and wandered these halls for one reason or another) and meanders the streets with a low-level but effective genjutsu weaving the image of a brown haired, brown eyed man in his place.

He doesn’t stop to wave at Asuma. He doesn’t stop to gaze at the Hokage Monument or the four faces carved into it. He doesn’t stop to wonder why there are so many Uchiha’s wandering the districts of Konoha. He doesn’t stop to listen to a small family of three with ridiculous hair yelling at each other in a small ramen stand. He doesn’t stop to watch a black-haired man with orange goggles get scolded by a petite brunette with purple marks on her cheeks.

He doesn’t stop.

He doesn’t stop.

He doesn’t-

He stops at the memorial stone.

It’s no bigger or smaller than he remembers (and he does, he does remember, he will always remember), just as glossy and well-kept in his memories with wilted flowers and crumbling ashes at the base, but the names are different. A different order in some cases, new names he hasn’t carved into his memory and names that haven’t yet been carved into stone.

The henge fades within the hour, more from lack of care than lack of focus, and ten minutes later the bushin disappears as well. The resulting, panicked spikes of chakra would be amusing if he wasn’t sure whether the joke-not-joke would end in grudging laughter or public execution.

It only takes ten minutes after to feel three presences quickly coming his way, intent and strong and alive, and Kakashi has always wanted to apologize to his ghosts but right now it seems impossible. One gets there first and not a few moments later the other two join, and the three land on the edges of the training ground, of their old training ground. Kakashi can’t tear his eyes away from the memorial however, has always found resolve and guilt in equal measure etched into the stone but the strength he draws from those feelings fails him now.

His nose itches with the long dead scents of incense, saltwater, and spice but he still doesn’t look back until -

A choked, “Kakashi?”

He closes his uncovered eye, takes a deep breath, and turns.

Three ghosts stare back. 

 


 

They’re still staring.

Obito is taller, Kakashi notes with a slight edge of hysteria in his thoughts, but not as tall as Kakashi. Why wouldn’t he be though? In this world, it seems, Obito lives and grows and becomes the young man Kakashi never gave him the chance to be. Rin too. She barely comes up to Obito’s shoulder but is still a head taller than in her youth and he can’t stop staring at the blood staining their clothes and faces, the same blood he’s never been able to wash from his hands.

Minato-sensei is almost exactly the same as Kakashi remembers except he’s breathing. There are lines around his eyes and mouth, extremely faint but present and a result of years of laughter and sorrow Kakashi would never be able to experience at his side.

He wonders what they see. A failure, a shadow, a long-forgotten memory?

“Oi! You bastard, don’t ignore me!” Obito shouts, voice cracking with the threat of tears, and the familiar words bring Kakashi back from the sinking depths of his mind just like it always used to before.

The words leave his mouth without much thought, a knee-jerk reaction he hasn’t had in over ten years. “Why should I listen to a crybaby ninja?”

The silence that follows is heavy with anticipation and shock until in a flash there are two bodies colliding into him, sending him to the ground in a pained heap of silent tears and ugly crying but he won’t say his body is still healing because this, this is the kind of healing he needs even if he will never say out loud. There’s dust in his eyes (yes, even the covered one, but the Sharingan has always acted up at random times and this is no different) and his chest feels tight with more than just exhaustion, and he doesn’t think he’s ever felt better, crushed under the bodies of his two precious teammates, minutes stretching as they struggle to control themselves.

Another flash, this time yellow, stands over him, bright blue eyes glassy as if the skies were about to rain, and Kakashi doesn’t imagine how rough his sensei’s voice sounds. “Obito, Rin, let him up.”

The two are reluctant, and Kakashi also didn’t realize how heavy they would be when they grew out of their child bodies (the ones he buried, one casket empty and one casket too light to contain all of one person; then later, much later, one casket too heavy for him to lower himself), but the thought vanishes as soon as Kakashi reaches out to take his sensei’s outstretched hand. In no time, he’s pulled into strong arms that taught him, lead him, comforted him for years and years before he learned how to accept it.

The hug is crushing but short, not giving Kakashi much time to marvel at the fact that his chin easily hooks over his sensei’s shoulder now when at one time he’d thought those shoulders were taller than the Hokage Monument. Even though Minato pulls back first, his hands are like hot iron brands on Kakashi’s shoulders as his sensei’s bright, bright blue eyes roam over his masked face like he can’t believe what he’s seeing.

Kakashi knows the feeling.

“When they brought you in, I didn’t think-” Minato looks lost, so lost, so much like the teenage jounin unprepared to take a grieving, genius orphan under his wing, and Kakashi knows this is his fault too, “I was so sure they’d be wrong. But Tsunade-sama and Hiashi-san swore that you were-” real, alive, not some fucked up attempt at recreating the Hatake line, “you, and Jiraiya-sensei and Kushina and I checked the scroll and even had Fugaku-san look it over with his Sharingan and it’s real and-”

“Breathe, sensei. You’re starting to sound like Obito when he’s panicking,” Kakashi blandly states, enjoying Minato’s sharp, startled laugh, looking so surprised and pleased it makes Kakashi want to preen, especially with Obito’s spluttering and Rin’s giggling right beside him.

Minato’s still smiling (and it looks a little like grieving but it’s not like Kakashi can judge) at him, rueful this time. “I should’ve known you wouldn’t stay put in the hospital until we could visit.”

Obito elbows his way into his like of vision, and for a moment Kakashi sees double - one Obito bloody and young and one not - before his sight rights itself and there’s just one Uchiha in front of him. “Yeah, you bastard! You were out for three days! Poor Rin was taking care of you the whole time and hurt her neck sleeping in the chair next to you!”

Kakashi expects Rin to blush and deny it but she does neither, instead eyeing Obito with a sly smile he doesn’t remember her ever wearing. “Are you sure that was me, Obito? I don’t snore and I remember the nurses complaining that the other patients had a hard time sleeping with all the noise in Kakashi’s room.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Obito gapes at her before turning back to Kakashi, eyes still suspiciously watery while a flush worked its way up his neck, so visible with his pale skin. “I wasn’t- I didn’t! That-”

They continue to snipe at each other teasingly, Minato watching all three of them with an indulgent fondness that Kakashi misses, but the short interaction leaves him feeling off-balance.

Of course. Of course they would grow up. Of course they would stay together.

Of course they would change.

His eyes are quick and assessing as he looks at his three teammates again, this time with more life-hardened scrutiny and less rose-colored remembrance, and feels something like the child of loss and envy curl in his chest at the closeness his team shares now without him.

Minato is still a fearsome Hokage with Obito and Rin as competent jounin under him, but they are still a team. Kakashi remembers how doggedly Minato had shadowed him after everything, watched over him even with his own grief at losing one then two students, determined not to lose a third, so Kakashi knows the same must’ve occurred in this world as well. This time, though, Rin hadn’t been abducted and killed by her remaining teammate and sensei didn’t die on the night of his child's birth, and their bonds are tighter than he could’ve imagined.

It’s a bit jarring, a bit heartbreaking.

But.

He’s never been one for dwelling on negative emotions, rarely felt spite and even rarer resentment. His companions are grief and guilt, and those two take up too much of his time for other things like anger or jealousy to really take root (until recently, until he was assigned a team of three that would change his world) and even now those negative, ugly things don’t manifest.

Despite not living this life with them, Kakashi is above all thankful that they are more or less happy and together.

“How did you get out of your room, anyhow?” Minato asks, head tilting curiously to the side, and something in Kakashi aches to see so much of his student in his sensei. “I placed seals on every surface so you wouldn’t be able to leave. I didn’t want you completely restrained in the bowels of the T&I Department so it was the only way to convince the Council you’d be secure. Who, by the way, are going to have my head because of your little stunt.” Ugh, the Council.

Rin rolls her eyes in obvious contempt, and Kakashi is gratified to find he can read her thoughts easily.

Obito snorts. “You think even your seals could keep Kakashi in the hospital? The same Kakashi that snuck out of there with a broken arm and a fever so high we was actually nice to me at training?”

Minato almost pouts and Kakashi inwardly despairs at the completely un-Hokage-like expression. “I put seals everywhere though! And I still wanna know what you did with the doorframe, Kashi, Tsunade doesn’t like having her hospital damaged like that.” His smile turns a little devious when Rin whaps a cackling Obito on the back of the head with a wide grin of her own, so like Naruto and Sakura in that moment Kakashi can’t help but feel warm at the sight even as it causes him pain in equal measure

He taps his hitae-ite, slanted over his scarred eye. “I have a few tricks.”

The air changes, and the three jounin can pinpoint the moment their bright-like-the-sun sensei becomes the flee-on-sight Yondaime Hokage. Minato’s face is almost grave when he looks at Kakashi, and the stinging in his left eye already tells him what this is going to be about.

“Kakashi, while we were able to prove that you’re you, just from a different place, we couldn’t explain why you have the Sharingan.”

Obito and Rin say nothing, expressions dropping from their elated teasing to something more professional but not quite, and Kakashi looks back at the memorial stone he’s spent his life apologizing to. He sighs, a sound that feels as heavy as his guilt, and gestures for them to sit in the green grass of their old training grounds.

“Get comfortable. I have a long story to tell.”

Again.

Chapter Text

It’s as easy as talking to the Memorial Stone. 

As he speaks, they stay quiet, as silent as the grave behind him, but unlike the Memorial Stone, they watch him with rapt attention. Here, he can’t lie, can’t bring himself to weave half-truths and embellished tales when these three deserve all the honesty he can muster no matter how much everything he’s learned has taught him to do the opposite. The story is longer, too, much longer than any other he’s told to their headstones, and so it comes out as a story - a sad, tragic story that has no business being spoken aloud.

And as familiar as his apologies are, this time he feels raw when he finishes, like someone took a rusted kunai and roughly cut him open, scraping everything out in slow drags. His teammates look no better. Obito had gotten sick exactly twice and Rin wouldn’t stop crying halfway through. He doesn’t remember Minato ever looking so pale.

He doesn’t tell them everything, of course.

They more know of his past, his father, they know everything up to the events of the Kannabi Bridge where their paths diverge-

(here, he is the empty casket because it was him that pushed Obito out of the way of the boulder, his lower body crushed and bleeding out slowly in front of them, slipping away even as Rin pushed herself to exhaustion trying to keep him awake, keep him alive despite the fact that in the end it was he who was left to rot behind enemy lines)

-and how he wasn’t there when Rin was abducted because he’d been on trial as a thief and murderer, accused of treason, of being exactly like his father.

He tells them exactly how his Mangekyo Sharingan matches Obito’s perfectly, low tenor never wavering despite the cracks he can feel spreading in his chest, but he’s not given a chance to apologize and beg for forgiveness because Rin throws herself at him in a fierce, bone-crushing hug that leaves him breathless. He tries to calm her teary, hysterical “I’m sorry, I’m so, so sorry Kakashi-kun” because she has no reason to be sorry so why is she apologizing when he is the murderer? But he’s never been able to comfort others, has always been one to stay quiet in the face of sorrow, so he just holds her until she stops shaking, until Obito’s pale face cracks with an absolving smile, until Minato bows his head in silent prayer.

He tells them of his years in ANBU where he became less than human, a broken tool that cracked and chipped at every heart he’d crushed, a broken tool that nearly shattered at the death of the Yondaime and his wife. How he’d nearly gone down a dark path with no intention to return, mind poisoned with silky words and warped with promises of justice for his teacher before the Sandaime saved him, from himself and from following a one-eyed thief into the bleak underground.

He keeps going despite the tightness in his throat until they know of the possible threat to the Jinchuriki, the potential identities of the Akatsuki, the greatest war the Five Nations will ever know.

(the grief on their faces is terrible, so terrible, and Kakashi wishes they’d never asked)

There’s more, so much more, but he doesn’t mention the Kyuubi’s attack or the Uchiha Massacre or Madara because it seems they hadn’t interfered just yet, doesn’t refer to his three students as anything but nameless graduates that happen to pass the bell test. He doesn’t have the patience (yes he does) to repeat himself in case they are a threat, needs to wait and wait because he’s good at biding his time for an opportunity to present itself and tell the right people at the right time; after all, who can he truly trust in this upside down world?

(maybe Orochimaru wasn’t the only snake poisoning Konoha)

In return, he learns that they were able to complete the mission, just like in his world, except Team Minato returns as heroes. And why wouldn’t they? This time, there was no disgraced Hatake runt carrying the most prized doujutsu of the famed Uchiha clan, no questions of theft, no doubts of Minato’s abilities as a teacher let alone Hokage-

-no Kakashi.

In this world, Obito becomes a kenjutsu master because right before he died, Kakashi had given him his father's tanto, had asked him to become a hero like the White Fang and protect his precious people, and Kakashi feels a pang in his chest seeing his father's weapon so well loved and cared for on Obito’s back.

(he remembers feeling it shatter in his hands like his father's legacy, all in the name retribution that didn’t satisfy the rage or quench the sorrow)

In this world, Rin is scarred by her inability to save her teammate, so she seeks out the greatest healers known and learns as much as she can, determined to never let it happen again, and once more Kakashi is humbled by the sight of the small medipack she’d given him as a jounin present hooked to her hip.

(fate is cruel; she knows how what his blood feels like soaking her clothes and he knows what her beating heart feels like in his hand)

In this world, Minato vows to keep his remaining teammates alive, throws everything he has into his sealing, convinced he would’ve been able to save his first student if he’d been faster, better, smarter, and becomes even more infamous in the art of fuinjutsu than Jiraiya or the Uzumaki Clan with Kushina supporting him - through everything.

(and Kakashi wonders how much support he needed after losing his first and longest student, his brother in arms and son at heart)

Later, when the war draws to an end, Minato is named Hokage by unanimous approval of the entire village, Obito rises to fame as one of the most powerful Uchiha seen in his generation with an activated Mangekyo Sharingan, and Rin’s name is spoken across the shinobi nations as a miracle healer that will someday soon surpass her mentors.

The Village Hidden in the Leaves is at its peak.

Konoha’s Yondaime Hokage is young and legendary, supported by his devastating whirlwind of a wife and his son’s godfather, Jiraiya. He is backed by two powerful students whose names are known across the lands, and the charisma of the Namikaze-Uzumaki family are enough to cement the loyalty of all the clans in the village, even somewhat taming the hostility that bres between the Uchiha and their naysayers. Tentative peace reigns as the Hokage extends treaties of cease-fires to the Five Nations and beyond, starting with the Sand, and the Yondaime Kazekage accepts the Yondaime’s olive branch with their alliance succeeding mostly due to their sons who will someday outshine even them.

Kakashi, for the first time since waking up, wonders if he is still dreaming.

 


 

“I never got you a gift,” Obito interrupts sheepishly, a bit sadly, as if it was a confession more than an admission.

Kakashi waves it off but Sharingan burning in his skull disagrees.

A gift, a curse, details, details... it croons.

“Actually,” Rin says, eyes shining with pride as she looks to Obito, and Kakashi doesn’t imagine the something else there, “after what happened, after the war, Obito made sure the Hatake name was brought back to it’s former glory.”

Minato nods, ignoring Obito’s protests that it wasn’t only him to do it. “He was adamant that your sacrifice was not in vain and that you and your father were to be regaled as heroes for saving your comrades. After Obito activated all the stages of the Sharingan and helped on the front lines using your tanto, the Uchiha clan couldn’t exactly disparage your name for saving one of their most talented doujutsu wielders twice.”

He smiles proudly at Rin next. “And Rin made a name for herself as a field medic towards the end, so with her influence as a shinobi capable in both healing and combat, I was able to sway the Council’s verdict on every team having a competent healer like Tsunade-sama suggested, and the decreased number of deaths have made it a requirement for any team to pass as chunin. The lower death toll gave her opinion more weight during meetings and she pointed out that if your father's team had had a proper medic, the mission wouldn’t have gone so poorly.”

Rin rolls her eyes but blushes anyway, touched by the Yondaime’s words, adding, “And the fact that you were a genius and the Yondaime’s best student certainly helped. You should’ve seen how scary Minato-sensei got when someone said anything bad about you or your father.”

“So yeah,” Obito summarizes, humble and proud at once, “since I never got you anything, I figured you at least deserved to be remembered for the good things you did, and I always admired your dad, so…”

Kakashi doesn’t know what to say.

He’s always lived under his father's name (both good and bad), hasn’t learned to live any other way, and only his own growing reputation has allowed him to be recognized for more than his father’s title or his mistakes. To know that, at least in one world, his team had gone so far to clear the Hatake name, that his father is finally being honored for being the hero that he was and could rest in peace without waiting for his angry, bitter son to forgive him...he was speechless.

His voice is rough when he says with all the sincerity in the world, “Thank you.”

Three beaming smiles is his reply.

Chapter Text

This Kakashi, Rin realizes one day, watching her boys play in the dirt like children instead of sparring like shinobi, is unbearably kind.

Her heart shatters at the thought.

To be fair, she hadn’t known their Kakashi long enough to truly know him inside and out. After all, they were only classmates for a short time, teammates for not much longer, and she and Obito had been blinded to his character for different reasons for so long, so how can she know what their Kakashi was truly like?

But she did know and knows with all her heart that their Kakashi was a broken boy. Their Kakashi was riddled with cracks she could never seal, held up and hardened by his own pride and wrapped in armor made of a cold, belittling indifference that never settled well on his young, young shoulders. Their Kakashi could be nice, when it suited him. He could be thoughtful when it came to the people close to him. Their Kakashi could be anyone he needed to be - a quiet neighbor, a good student, a reliable comrade, an incredible shinobi - but when he was stripped of expectations and scorn, he was just Kakashi, and for all that he was their precious teammate, he was not kind.

Maybe he could’ve been, one day, with Obito and Rin and Minato by his side to melt the ice around his heart and pull his head out of his bitter grief.

But that’s neither here nor there anymore.

Their Kakashi is dead, and seeing this Kakashi, just as broken but so, so different - gently guiding an academy students hand in a kata as Obito rolls in the grass with a few others, Minato watching fondly in the background with children grabbing at the fringes of his flame-edged coat - only reminds her of that fact. She has to remind herself of it every once in awhile, because the wistful notion of I want to keep him is a dangerous one.

She is a strong woman and an even stronger shinobi; she can handle heartbreak, as many times as necessary, but-

-but she doesn’t think she can handle Obito or Minato’s a second time.

She doesn’t say a word about how this Kakashi’s smile comes so freely, as hidden as it is behind his mask, or how it’s as foreign to her as his easy attitude because nothing with their Kakashi was ever easy. She doesn’t mention his longing looks when she catches his eyes lingering on them, watching them with a profound sadness that Rin can feel pang sympathetically in her chest, as if they are everything he could ever ask for. She doesn’t tell him that when he speaks, she’s reminded of someone far older, and she doesn’t wonder out loud just what this Kakashi has had to survive to become so wise.

Instead, she does what she’s always done - look after her boys and patch up their scrapes when they stumble. Scold them for recklessness and love them for it at the same time. Watch over them as they protect her in return.

It’s all she can do when she knows, just like she knew all those years ago with his blood running like rivers through her fingers, that they can’t keep Kakashi.

They are all powerful, they are all great, they are all meant for incredible things, but Kakashi’s fate is far darker and far crueler - in this life and in any other. He’s meant to do more than fix their broken team, something in her whispers, meant for something bigger and beyond even his father's long legacy, meant to outgrow them into something absolutely incredible and unreachable. He belongs to no one, no matter how much she or Obito or Minato wishes differently.

She thinks of this team; this Obito, laughing louder and longer than she can remember; this Minato, looking younger than he has in years; this Rin, thinking of him so fondly when for so long it was too hard to think of him at all. She thinks of Kakashi, of how he will never be buried in the village he protected so fiercely.

She thinks of another team; another Obito, crushed to death with a missing eye and a smile on his face; another Minato, powerless and cold beside his wife and child; another Rin, stabbed through the heart by the broken boy she thought she loved. She thinks of Kakashi, all alone, grieving and grieving and grieving.

She thinks of his new team, who took the broken pieces of his shattered life and create a mosaic of someone so much happier.

She thinks of all these things, all these people she will never know and never be, and doesn’t stop the tears from spilling down her face because there is one truth that will always remain.

In any world, it seems, Kakashi isn’t theirs to keep.

Chapter Text

It’s a nice day, Kakashi thinks lazily, looking up to the blue sky and drifting clouds.

The sounds of his teammates chatting nearby is a soothing balm that helps ease the ache that’s always lived beneath his ribs, there but never healed. They leave him to his thoughts, don’t attempt to draw him into another conversation so soon, not after so many revelations in such a short amount of time. Their understanding and consideration is more than he deserves, but he enjoys it anyway, minutes and hours slipping by as the sun sinks slowly into the horizon. He idly wonders how many responsibilities his teammates, and especially his sensei, are shirking just to sit quietly beside him, is counting the number of rules they’re all breaking, but he is thankful all the same.

It gives him time to think, to process, the things not learned from his team but rather from his short side trip before he was found. 

A shinobi without information is a dead one, after all, and he is too good to keep himself from perusing through some of the Hokage’s restricted files while a second and third bushin slip into the library to brush up on Konoha’s recent history in the short time between his jailbreak and his discovery at the Stone. All the things his team told him matched up to his bushins memories of course, a few details missing that they don’t know are important and a few more added that would never be written in books, forever lost to the ages and carried far away on whispered winds. 

Kakashi can feel that not all is well in this world, even if the three of his most precious people are sitting in front of him.

Even as they chat amongst themselves, content to have him near, something wrong crawls across Kakashi’s skin, makes his instincts bristle and itch with restlessness. There is tension in the village, among the citizens and the shinobi, even if they don’t realize it. 

Kakashi thinks he knows what they’re waiting for.

But first. 

The wind stirs gently and Kakashi doesn’t need to open his eyes to know ANBU has arrived to collect them. Skirting the edges of his senses for the last few hours set had his teeth on edge, but he’s glad to see for himself Yugao doing well behind her feline mask, even if she will never know him as more than a dead man.

“Hokage-sama, the Council has requested your presence with Hatake Kakashi.”

Her even tone nearly brings a reminiscent smile to his face when he remembers her eagerness to be on his team what seemed to be a life time ago, but the memory of her silent tears at her lover's funeral is sudden and sobering.

Obito and Rin notice the shift in his mood and tense beside him while Minato is as still as calm waters, observant and quiet.

His teacher doesn’t sigh as he stands and absently dusts his clothes off, looking regal and powerful even with such simple movements, but it’s not hard to see how reluctant Minato is to move and break the tentative peace they’ve found. “Seems we’ve avoided this for long enough. Obito, Rin,” he looks at them expectantly, eyebrow raised and mouth in a grin as if he knows exactly what they’re planning with almost imperceivable forced cheer. “No eavesdropping. If you have to, you can go bother Kushina until we return, I’m sure she’d love the company and an update.”

Kakashi stands as well, shaking off the melancholy that seems to cling to every thought and easily hiding the exhaustion wracking his body even as Rin eyes him suspiciously and Obito relaxes enough to pout at their exasperated Hokage.

He reassures, “I’m fine, Rin. I’m just going to stand in a corner while a few politicians talk about me like I’m not there.”

It's enough to leech away the remaining tension in Rin’s shoulders but Obito’s not-so-subtle snickering draws a narrow-eyed glare from him. Minato’s secretive smile is enough to raise his hackles a bit as well, but he shrugs it off and follows his teacher, traveling farther and farther away from their old training grounds and pretending it isn’t hard to leave his two former teammates behind.

He doesn’t look at the smooth, porcelain face of his once-subordinate again, takes a moment to reign in the turmoil and guilt swimming in his gut, but it’s hard.

(he was the one to introduce her to Hayate)


No wonder Obito looked so smug...

Kakashi doesn’t really know what to expect at the Council meeting aside from the usual huffing and puffing from the older members and disinterest or belligerence from the younger, but he is unprepared to face most of his agemates on top of all of Konoha’s clan heads and Minato’s advisors - how they manage to get Tsunade to step foot into the village barring Naruto winning a bet against her again, he can only guess a certain redhead had a hand in it.

There are easily several dozen shinobi stuffed into the large but claustrophobic room, and it’s not a mistake that most of the jounin are stationed around the perimeter with ANBU shadowing them while Kakashi is left to face every pair of eyes staring beadily into him.

Well, at least he isn’t being underestimated.

His shoulder twitches, a small movement largely overlooked, and carefully spots three ROOT agents among the stationed shinobi.

He doesn’t react, however, far too used to power-plays and politics and mind games like these to let it affect him, especially Danzo’s, who stares at him unflinchingly from his perch, and merely enjoys the wide-eyed stares and hushed whispers of his comrades below the humdrum of careless civilians making noise outside the tower. As quiet and discreet as they try to be, as they are in normal circumstances, Kakashi’s sensitive ears can easily pick up the words passing between downturned lips.

“-spitting image of the White Fang!”

“-don’t believe a word of it, it’s completely ridiculou-”

“...didn’t think it was true-”

“-mpossible! It’s an illusion or a clever trick, surely…”

“-definitely didn’t drink enough before this…”

Minato rises from his seat, long white and red cloak fluttering with the movement, and Kakashi’s chest swells with pride at how an almost reverent hush falls over most of the attendees immediately. His teacher's presence fills the room, as does his warm voice, “The Council has requested a meeting with everyone here today to clarify the series of events that took place three days ago.”

Kakashi would have been surprised to see Gai, Ebisu, and Anko step up to explain their mission and how they found and brought Kakashi back to Konoha, but he’s already read the file and knows the events that took place.  

(found unconscious just outside the Land of Fire’s borders, carrying nothing but his gear with no signs of combat in the area, it was Gai who confirmed his identity - and at any age, the startling resemblance to the long dead White Fang would never change - and it was him who managed to convince his teammates to bring Kakashi back to the village bound but alive; it seems, no matter where he is, his old friend saves him again and again)

He tunes out most of Ebisu’s droning voice, mind wandering back to what Minato had told him before getting to the tower.

“I take it the Council has been kept up to date on my status?” Kakashi asks blandly, not at all looking forward to seeing that old crow Danzo or his two cohorts, Koharu and Homura. Those two had been bad enough even with Sarutobi curbing the worst of their prejudices, Kakashi doesn’t want to think what they’ll say now without their former teammate to settle them.

Minato nods. “For the most part, they understand the gist of the situation, but it was still a bit of a political nightmare the first day.”

Kakashi raises an eyebrow, “Oh?”

Minato shrugs, shooting a distracted smile at some civilians and waving to a few shopkeepers that manage to catch a glimpse of them moving swiftly across the rooftops. “For a while, no one knew what to do. A Konohan prodigy who died on a mission that essentially ended the Third Shinobi World War suddenly turning up eighteen years later as if he hadn’t actually been dead all this time?

“So we ran all the tests we could. A biopsy was done on the Sharingan you have and matched to Obito’s DNA, and everything down to the last hair matched your records; Tsunade-hime did all the examinations herself. Hiashi-san and Fugaku-san confirmed that there was no genjutsu and that your appearance wasn’t some obscure, body-transformation Kekkei-Genkai, so that ruled out most subterfuge theories.” He winced, “Inoichi-san and Ibiki-san did try to go through your head, which might explain your headache waking up - sorry about that by the way - and even though they couldn’t get much with you unconscious, they agreed you weren’t a threat.” Yet.  

“So...they accepted the explanation that I’m, what, from a different world?”  

It had taken Kakashi quite a bit of time to come to the conclusion himself, but rationality and pragmatism has never lead him astray. What was the saying? If you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.  

Besides, he’s seen stranger things.

Minato looks as doubtful as he feels. “Not so much ‘accepted’ as ‘too curious for their own good’. It’s a miracle they even agreed to this, even if it’s just to see and hear for themselves.”

He doesn’t have to strain to hear the stress in Minato’s voice. How could he not when he knows, under normal circumstances, he should’ve been killed or detained in T&I’s basement - if not outright by Hokage’s orders, then at least by the combined pressures of the Council and the Clans. How hard had Minato fought in his defense to give him this chance?  

Kakashi doesn’t want to ask if his sensei has considered Orochimaru’s experiments, not yet. Instead, he glances at the blonde questioningly. “And you didn’t wonder if I had just survived the rockslide?”  

“Of course I did.” Old hurt and even older sorrow darts across his teacher's expression and it’s just another reason why Kakashi hates himself. His teachers expression clears, but Kakashi’s guilt does not. “However, there were no signs of trauma due to a severe injury like the one that cru- ahem, like the one Rin described, so survival was ruled out.”  

Kakashi steers away from the topic with all the grace of Sai’s typical social ability, “So a big interrogation is what they decided? Nosy old codgers.”

Minato barks a laugh and gives him a wry grin, “You know how the Council likes to know everything.”

Unfortunately, Ebisu’s flowery words come to an end and the spotlight is back on him. 

Minato nods, turning to address him and the rest of the room. He is stern but not unkind when he instructs, ”The Council and Clan Heads have questions that they would like to have addressed, and anyone may ask as long as it is relevant, appropriate, and respectful. Yamanaka Inoichi-san and Morino Ibiki-san, heads in the Torture and Interrogation Department, will be scanning your vitals and monitoring your mental state as you speak to ensure we only hear the truth. Do you agree to these conditions?” 

Kakashi’s voice is is just as solemn as he nods. “I do.” 

“Do you remember what happened to you? How you got here?” It’s obvious by ‘here’ his sensei meant this Konoha. Unfortunately, Kakashi doesn’t, and it’s disconcerting but useful.

“I have no recollection of the events that lead up to my discovery,” is all he says, because it’s true, and despite the suspicious disbelief that colors some of their faces, the lack of Inoichi nor Ibiki-san’s disagreement tells them enough. He is telling the truth. He’s sure he’ll be seeing those two soon, though. Privately.

Minato nods, expecting that answer and continues, “Please state your name and rank.”

“Hatake Kakashi, Jounin.”

“Registration Identification number.”

“009720." 

“Ages of promotion.”

“Genin at five, chunin at six, jounin at twelve.”

Minato raises an eyebrow.

“Technically, sensei, it’s not really a promotion.” Minato looks uncompromising but Kakashi can see him fighting a smile at the cheek. Kakashi relents with a sigh, “ANBU at fourteen, and ANBU captain at sixteen.”

It is largely quiet up to this point, but with the revelation of his career in ANBU, the whispers kick up again. To his comrades credit, none of his former classmates look all that surprised, half probably expecting it and half too busy staring at him like a ghost.

Kakashi expects questions from the Clan Heads with Minato’s allowance, but he is a bit surprised when Inuzuka Tsume, a fierce woman whom he’s worked with but never talked to at length, speaks up. “How long were you in ANBU, kid?”

Kakashi’s eyebrow twitches at that last bit but answers nonetheless. “Ten years.”

The whispers rise and fall once more, and this time there is more incredulity, even in Minato’s expression, because while Kakashi told him he’d been in ANBU, he hadn’t said a word about why or for how long.

A year in ANBU is considered average, three years a long career, and very few making it passed five years. A decade of service is an almost guaranteed death sentence, both in body and mind, especially at such a young age no matter how quickly he rose  through the ranks as a child. Kakashi knows they’ll start evaluating his mental state with vigor once this wretched meeting is adjourned just by the small frown now creasing Inoichi’s face and the spark of something ominous in Ibiki’s eyes.

It doesn’t matter though. He’s been through plenty of interrogations, he’s suffered more torture that he likes to remember. He will only tell them what they need to know.

He’s drawn back to his sensei who looks the slightest bit worried, but only to those who know him best, and is somewhat caught off-guard to see several of the non-skeptical shinobi looking at him in awe and admiration while others frown with contempt and wariness.

Ah, he thinks, I see despite Obito’s attempts at clearing my family name, there are those who still blame my father and I for the war.

It isn’t a surprising thought, just a sad one. The revelation - reminder - of his genius doesn’t seem to settle well with some. But, Kakashi is prepared. After all, it’s only through his own rising fame that he was able to finally restore the Hatake Clan, even if it is now a clan of one. While inconvenient on some levels, he knows he use this anonymity for his own purposes - less eyes watching Sharingan no Kakashi for his triumphs and failures.

Well, he amends, Jiraiya’s gaze like a physical weight on his chest, probably .

“-come ANBU Commander?” Kakashi is only able to catch the tail end of Hiashi’s question, but thankfully the man continues, as regal and cold as Kakashi remembers before the disastrous Chunin Exams, “Ten years is commendable record. Why not reach higher?”

Despite sounding like a complement to his skills, Kakashi can hear the suspicion beneath the well-spoken questions.

Kakashi’s voice is cool and expression blank, “That is precisely why Hokage-sama honorably discharged me. As you pointed out, Hyuuga-sama, ten years is a long time in ANBU, especially added to a decade of service as a chunin and jounin. As we were in times of peace and knowing I have no interest in power, administrative or otherwise, he believed my skills could be used elsewhere and so I became a teacher like Minato-sensei.”

That seems to quell some of the wariness coloring their expressions, and Uchiha Fugaku looks near delighted at someone talking back to the Hyuuga Head, even as discreet as it is - you dare question me, who gave twenty five years of service to this village and died protecting my teammates? You dare question the Hokage, his judgement of my worth, his decisions? - but Kakashi knows the questions aren’t over.

This time, the question comes from a minor clan Kakashi can’t even name. “How many missions have you completed?”

More than you’re qualified to know.

Kakashi inwardly sighs. With the direction these questions are going, this meeting is going to take a while. “I’ve completed 1,141 official missions. 197 D-rank, 190-Crank, 414 B-rank, 298 A-rank, and 42 S-rank.”

Another one pipes up. “Official?”

Kakashi shrugs, “I may have completed a few missions not necessarily sanctioned by the Hokage. It all turned out okay in the end, so, mission success!” More like I have to go drag Naruto out of trouble...

Now there are disbelieving looks being leveled at him by his fellow jounin, some in distaste because of his less tha professional attitude and most because they are trying to reconcile than man he’s become with the child that he was. It’s hard to remember what he was like before (mainly because he tries to forget) but everyone here has some memory of him - rigid, intelligent, and bitter beyond words. Seeing him now must be a shock; flippant and everything they think he is not.

Dead silence meets his declaration and only stretches when neither Yamanaka nor Morino say a word to contradict him, and he catches the way Minato tries to hide his amusement.

An whistle shatters the suffocating quiet by up-til-now silent Toad Sage and thankfully all eyes turn to him.

“Not bad, kid. Almost as good as me, the Great Jiraiya-sama!” Jiraiya bellows, laughing obnoxiously, only to have his head slammed against the tabletop by an irate Tsunade with surrounding Clan Heads barely concealing their disapproval or amusement, but it does the trick and disperses the mounting tension - just like Jiraiya probably intended.

It’s a familiar scene that catches him off guard with how nostalgic it is, the mix of recognizing his students in their masters and seeing the great Sannin so lively again. While Naruto had been closer to the sage, Jiraiya had once been a good friend of Sakumo’s and little Kakashi’s annoying uncle, too.

The sentimental thought quickly passes when he notices the curious and deadly gleams in several eyes he can see.

He’s in for a long night.

Chapter Text

When he’d seen that familiar silver hair on an unfamiliar figure in front of the Memorial Stone, Obito honestly hadn’t known what to think.

It had seemed so impossible at the time, even after being the first one at the hospital when Minato’s message reached him, even after seeing Gai’s haunted expression and Kushina’s pinched face, even after staring at the unconscious man with wide eyes and building rage for hours on end (it’s a trick, a spy, it’s not him), even after every theory was shot down and the impossible became more and more likely (not a trick, not a spy, still not him).

It can’t be him , Obito had thought furiously, eyes pricking with the embarrassing sting of tears he hadn’t felt in ages because he had better control than that; it couldn’t be him because he’d been dead for eighteen years and it was Obito’s fault and is this his punishment for failing so miserably?

He almost hadn’t recognized Rin when he’d seen her at the hospital, talking with Tsunade and looking so much like the heartbroken girl he’d been in love with in their teen years. Strong, beautiful, kind-hearted Rin, reduced to muffled sobs at the imposter’s bedside late into the night when she’d thought no one was watching over her, because for all that Rin was grounded in reality while he was the one to fly off into dreams, she had hopes and wishes and regrets too, and seeing one of her greatest ones in front of her had seemed to be too much.

He’d wanted to hope, too. Kami he’d wanted to hope.

But as much as he’d wanted to believe recklessly as he’s wont to do, Uchiha blood still ran hotly through his veins and the insistent burn of suspicion hadn’t left him. Whoever this man was, Obito had quietly promised he would make sure the other understood true agony for inflicting this pain on the people he loved.

In front of Rin, he’d put on a grin.

In front of Minato, he’d held his head high.

At the fake’s bedside, he’d sat on his hands and tried not to kill him on the spot.

How dare you.

So it had been as much a surprise to him as it was to the ghostly specter of the late last Hatake when the choked name, “Kakashi?” fell from his lips, rage fleeing from him in a dizzying rush that left him terrifyingly vulnerable in the silence that stretched between them. He’d nearly clutched his chest to keep his heart from beating too loudly in his ribcage because it’d seemed one word, one sound could make the other disappear into the dying sunlight like he was never actually there.

And then, miracle of miracles, the man had turned, still solid and real and not fading with accusations in his eyes like Obito always remembered from his nightmares.

In that moment, Obito hadn’t been able to breathe even as the words had tumbled from his mouth in an angry, heated rush that had ended up cracking pathetically halfway through, “Oi, you bastard, don’t ignore me!”

A pause, and something had loosened it’s grip in Obito’s chest when he’d heard the low, mocking drawl, “Why should I listen to a crybaby ninja?”

Everything after had become a blur, literally, as he and Rin had tumbled into the solid, real, warm, not-fake body of their long lost teammate, ugly tears and equally ugly sounds coming from all three. The little, nagging, hateful, angry distrust that had been living and breeding in his lungs had finally left in a heavy exhale, relief filling them instead, and everything had been right in the world at that moment when Minato had managed pulled the man from the ground into a hug of his own.

“Get comfortable. I have a long story to tell.”

He knows there’s still so much they need to talk about, things that need to be discussed, but-

“Obito! The soup is boiling over!”

He can dedicate some time later to think on in. Right now, he just wants to bask in the feeling of having his team again, whole and alive and together, of the rightness that finally settles in his bones.

He grins, mentally counting down the hours when his teacher and his teammate will be back.

“Got it!”

 


 

A flash of fiery red hair is his only warning before Kakashi is bowled over with a shout of, “Kakashi-kun!”

He’d know that boisterous voice anywhere.

He has no chance to prepare, though, as the door swings open enthusiastically and he is nearly lifted off the ground completely in a bone-crushing hug that should be registered as a weapon. His ribs creak loudly in protest as the deceptively petite redhead squeezes him within an inch of his life in joy, nearly a head shorter than him but always so full of life, bright like a blazing sun.

“Ah…” he groans, earning twin snickers from his two teammates inside the apartment and a sigh from his teacher beside him, “Kushina-san. It’s nice to see you again, too.”

The redhead drops him and pulls back abruptly, hands on her hips, a scowl on her face and, to Kakashi’s utmost horror, eyes narrowed and shining with tears. “Oi! What’s with the formality, Kakashi-kun? Just because you’re all grown up now it doesn’t mean I’m not still your nee-san, dattebane.” She then proceeds to reach up to whack the back of his head like he was Minato’s new, rude little genin student with poor social skills instead of the deadly, respected shinobi he’s grown into.

It’s an old argument, one that he’s always ducked out of with a curt excuse so he wouldn’t have to get closer to his teachers - at the time - girlfriend, because back then having ties was dangerous and could (did) lead to heartbreak and weakness, but now...now, he’s too tired to fight and decides he’s allowed to indulge himself.

He smiles sheepishly under his mask, apologetic but inordinately happy. “Kushina-neesan, then.”

Her surprise, followed by her beaming smile, is too much, and he looks somewhere else where that beautiful expression can’t hurt him because it looks so much like the last time he’d seen her.

(her face had been splattered red with her and her husband's blood, blossoming from a gaping hole in her chest with her lips curled into a pale smile and looking so content and so relieved to lie beside her baby boy, her incredible son she’d never know, hair spilling around her like a river of fire)

Kakashi has to swallow hard and shake the image from his mind because this isn’t the time or place.

For all the tact that Kushina usually lacks, she must see some of the sorrow slinking across his face like skulking shadows and just turns on her heel to enter the apartment, throwing a, “Hurry up and get inside you two! I have dinner waiting!” over her shoulder.

Minato makes a sound of complaint. “Kushina! I thought I said we’d be back late, you didn’t have to wait up for us.”

Despite his protest, his eyes shine with fondness and love when he looks at her.

Kushina clucked her tongue, unaware of the shameless puppy eyes sensei is giving her, too busy waving a wooden spoon threateningly at them, and Kakashi is mildly alarmed see the beginnings of the Red Hot Habanero about to unleash her fury. “None of that! Obito-kun and Rin-chan told me it would take a while, and nothing is better than a hot meal and some tea after dealing with those ridiculous, crusty, selfish, uncompromising, EGOTISTICAL- mmph!”

Kakashi quickly averts his eyes from the quick kiss his sensei plants on her.

Minato pulls back with a dopey grin. “I know, dear, but it’s better to get it over with now. Where did Obito and Rin go just now anyway?”

As if summoned, the two in question reappear, both wearing simple jounin blues without their vests or headbands, and becken them all to come to the table. They look soft like this, no less capable but not quite so invulnerable. Normal. Kakashi squashes the completely irrational urge to secure the perimeter to make sure no one can hurt them when they’re so open and relaxed.

Ignorant to his thoughts, Obito grins. “We were setting up the table, sensei. C’mon, let’s eat!”

Kakashi makes a move to step forward but freezes when he smells salt-broiled saury and miso soup with eggplant among the dishes, heart lurching in his chest a little because no one knows that it’s his favorite dish besides Kushina - who’d bullied it out of him after a particularly rough mission that left him bedridden in her and sensei’s care for three days - but this does not deter his team. He is more or less dragged to the table anyway, squeezed into a seat between his teammates and across from the Namikaze’s, and he’s a little too overwhelmed to do more than comply.

“Oooh, roasted potatoes! My favorite!”

“Obito! Don’t start eating until everyone has food, it’s rude!”

“How was your day, dear?”

“Mm, eventful. Everything looks delicious, as usual.”

Kakashi feels...lost.

Sitting here, eating a home cooked meal with all the people he holds dear, is not a place he’s ever imagined for himself, especially as undeserving as he is.

But, he finds that the guilt and anxiety that normally consumes his thoughts retreats farther and farther back into his mind as Obito and Rin jostle closer, as Kushina shoves more food onto his plate, as Minato complains about the nosy Council, as they all bicker and tease each other with a sense of long familiarity and affection. The house is warm and full of laughter with pictures on every surface and clutter on the coffee table, kunai marks on the walls and mysterious stains worn into the wallpaper, an old quilt thrown over the back of the beaten couch and signs of life in every corner.

It’s a home and it’s filled with family.

Kakashi hasn’t had either of those in a long time.

 


 

Kushina hums her favorite tune under her breath as she washes dishes, an old song from her home that always lingers gently in her memories even if she can’t quite place the name, and doesn’t start when Kakashi appears by her side like a graceful shadow even if her heart ticks a beat faster for a moment. She smiles proudly - little Kakashi has certainly grown into a fine shinobi.

“I told you you don’t need to help, you know. This time, anyways,” she says with a teasing grin.

He hums, warm tenor a stark contrast to the sharp alto of his early teens. “I seem to remember a certain Hokage’s wife trying to beat manners into me as a kid. Helping with dishes was one of them.”

Kushina snorts. “Looks like it finally stuck too. Since when do you care for manners anyway, beating or no?”

“Ah, guests aren’t supposed to help clean the mess they made?” he asks lightly with a note of humor, sleeves rolled up and hands expertly taking the dishes she washes and carefully drying them.

She glares playfully up at him - and since when has she needed to look up to the shortest member of Minato’s team? - and bumps her hip against his, ignoring the way he tenses and chiding gently, “You’re not a guest, Kakashi-kun. You’re family. Family helps because they want to, not because they have to. Even if they do complain about it.” She tilts her head, able to hear Obito’s grumbling about having to clean up a broken plate while Rin lectures him about roughhousing at the dinner table. It’s a familiar argument even though it’s rare for Obito to accidentally break anything but for Kakashi, she reflects, it must be a new experience. The thought makes her sad.

She glances at him, puzzled, when he doesn’t automatically take the wet plate she offers him, and her heart breaks a little at the thinly veiled but genuine confusion she finds. She’s suddenly reminded of how young Kakashi really is, for all that he is over a decade and a half older than she remembers.

“I see,” he says slowly, visible eye unblinking and solemn, and she knows he doesn’t, not at all, but she doesn’t press because she knows these things take time.

She wonders how much time they have.

They go back to washing the dishes side by side without another word, but when he begins to quietly hum her melody, she smiles and hums with him.

 


 

As soon as they are settled with some tea and Kushina’s favorite mochi (no one comments when Kakashi takes the only armchair, in the corner and out of reach), Obito fires off the questions that have no doubt been plaguing his mind all day but were kept at bay by Rin’s sharp looks, “Hey, so how was the meeting? What kinda stuff did they ask you? Did anyone yell? Did you take off your mask?”

Kakashi gives him a flat look. “Horrible, personal, no, and no. Thank you, by the way, for warning me beforehand. Oh wait, you didn’t.”

Obito grins in delight. “Aw, c’mon Bakashi! I couldn’t think of a better prank!”

“That’s evil Obito-kun,” Kushina cackles, “I love it!”

“Sensei certainly didn’t help,” Kakashi sniffs.

Minato squawks indignantly, “Wait a minute, I can’t exactly keep a leash on all of them, can I? It’s not my fault they can’t take turns like adults. At least they stuck to the ‘don’t ask about his world’ rule, for the most part. And I saved you from an on-floor evaluation by Ibiki.”

Kakashi pretends he’s deaf and Rin laughs, “It’s probably because they’re so bored and this is the most interesting thing that’s happened in a while.”

Obito is practically vibrating with energy, asking with a mouthful of mochi. “So, so? Are you gonna start going on missions with us?”

It’s a loaded question even if Obito probably doesn’t mean it to be - one Kakashi doesn’t have a good answer for because there are too many things to think about first, uncertainties that he hasn’t had time to examine - but before Kakashi can find a suitable answer that won’t dampen their good spirits, Minato clears his throat.

He thinks his sensei has an excuse to cover for him, but instead Minato’s expression is sheepishly guilty and Kakashi eyes him with suspicion. “Actually, about that Kakashi...even before the meeting began, they agreed that if you passed their psych tests, you would still need to prove your proficiency in all the shinobi arts at a jounin level before they can reinstate you in any capacity, and afterwards you would be under heavily supervised probation until they’re convinced without a shadow of a doubt you’re you.”

Kushina’s expression sours. “They still think he’s a fake? Even after all the tests Tsunade-hime ran and the sc-?"

Obito’s sudden choking fit interrupts her, and she has to pound him on the back to keep him from dying a dishonorable death.

Minato’s laughs almost nervously, “You know how they can be.”

Rin straightens where she sits, a gleam in her eye. She hums thoughtfully as a slow grin starts to spread across her usually angelic face - Obito’s isn’t any better when he finally stops choking and figures out what Rin is thinking. “So...an exhibition match?”

Minato nods and parrots with a smirk of his own. “An exhibition match.”

Kakashi is unsurprised and wholly unimpressed.

Minato grins at him. “I understand it seems a bit ridiculous, but you can’t blame them for their curiosity, can you?” The smile brightens with pride, and Kakashi despairs because it seems even after all this time, he’s helpless to his sensei’s whims, “I know you’ll do fantastic, Kakashi-kun.”

Kakashi narrows his eyes at him.

Rin laughs, grinning in excitement, "What does that entail, exactly?”

“I’m assuming it’s a series of matches to test my level of proficiency in each area of combat.” Kakashi theorizes, somehow looking deep in thought and bored at the same time, “If so, I’ll most likely be pitted against Kurenai for Genjutsu, Gai for Taijutsu, Hayate for Kenjutsu and weapons, and Obito for the Sharingan.” He looks out the window for a moment consideringly, “I don’t know of any ninjutsu specialists aside from myself, and it’s more than likely there will be a team combat exercise to measure my capabilities as a leader and team member, but who they choose for that, I wouldn’t know who the best candidates are among the registered shinobi here are.”

It’s likely they’ll group me with a pair that already have solid teamwork. Perhaps Kotetsu and Izumo. Chunin rank, Jounin skills, and teamwork comparable to the previous generation of Ino-Shika-Cho. Or maybe Genma’s team. Takami is out of the country on a mission, it would make sense for them to place me with Genma and Raidou for a higher level assignment.

Silence follows his explanation and he looks back to see Obito glaring at him while Rin smiles, Kushina stares, and Minato beams proudly, unsurprised.

“What?” He asks flatly.

Minato’s smile doesn’t dim but he narrows his eyes suspiciously, giving him a sly fox-like expression Kakashi usually associates with Kushina or Naruto. “I would ask if you broke into my office - again , don’t think I didn’t notice - and looked into the file containing your matchups but I also know you probably just figured that out on your own.” He shakes his head in exasperation but also a bit of proud wonder, “You never cease to surprise me.”

The unexpected compliment, sincere and heartfelt, nearly makes Kakashi drop his tea, flustered. By Rin’s smile and Obito’s snicker, his reaction is more apparent than he intends and he subtly glowers at them.

“That’s all right, but I’m not surprised you don’t know who you’re going aginst in ninjutsu. We’ll keep it a surprise for now.” Minato winks, and Kakashi holds a sigh because he recognizes the mischievous streak in his teacher and knows this will probably not end well for him.

“Well,” Rin says as she leans back comfortably with her tea, “this will certainly be interesting.”

Kakashi narrows his eyes at his teammates because they look too suspiciously excited to mean anything good for his health or sanity.

“Speaking of interesting things,” Kushina grins, practically vibrating with excitement, “I just got a missive from Ino-chan! Her team is on their way back from Cha no Kuni and will be home in about a week.”

Kakashi raises an eyebrow in question and Minato explains with his own wide smile, “Jiraiya-sensei took Naruto out to Otafuku Gai for a while and they ended up meeting Team Asuma while they were in the middle of dealing with a complication in their mission. Since the situation wasn’t dire and Jiraiya-sensei heard about Gai and his team finding you, he came back as soon as he could and left Naruto to stay and assist Team Asuma and return home with them.”

Kakashi remembers reading about this in one of his sensei’s files - Naruto is officially Jiraiya’s apprentice, has been ever since graduating the academy top of his class, and has been traveling around the Five Nations for months at a time ever since.

He also remembers seeing reports of insubordination and belligerence - not exactly a surprise, in all honestly - whenever he was ever assigned to a team in the months in between his trips outside the village, but the behavior only started up a few years ago and was accompanied by other strange behavior. He’s willing to bet it’s a simple case of puberty and teenage rebellion - would’ve anyway, if Sasuke’s files hadn’t been blacked out at around the same time, or that Sakura had dropped out of the academy within five years even after showing similar promise of graduating as top kunoichi as in his world.

It makes his gut churn sickly but he keeps those feelings from showing, instead inquiring, “Oh? I thought I saw Asuma earlier, though. Former Team Ten leading their own missions now?”

Minato nods. “Yeah, they’re all already chunin and technically aren’t Team Ten anymore so Asuma felt it was alright to let them on a few B-ranks by themselves a few months ago. Gives Shikamaru-kun a bit of room to grow as a leader.”

“Trying to get him to sign up for the Jounin exams then?” Kakashi asks wryly.

“Trying, being the keyword,” Rin comments with a roll of her eyes, “Shikamaru is one of the least motivated but most eligible of his team.”

A thought strikes him. “You and Obito aren’t senseis, are you?”

Rin blinks in surprise before shaking her head with a rueful smile. “Oh no, no way. I’m way too busy directing the hospital with Shizune and teaching class at the Academy to even think about taking on a genin team. After Tsunade-shishou retired a while back, Shizune went with her on a three year trip around the nations and I had to do a complete overhaul in the system because people became so lax without her to whip them back into shape. Besides, there are plenty of other jounin-sensei to teach the next generation.”

Obito nods. “Yeah, I would’ve thought about it if it was sensei’s kid but Naruto’s been picked up by Jiraiya-jiji so I figured I’d just open a kenjutsu school with Hayate and stay an active duty Jounin.”

This is news to Kakashi, and he realizes that as much as he thinks of his teammates and their deaths, he’s never given much thought to what they would’ve done with their lives if they’d lived to see the end of the war. It’s too painful to think of the potential he snuffed out so young, but now he’s so curious he can’t help but say, “Tell me about it.”

The look of bewilderment on Rin and Obito’s face is hilarious, as is the surprised delight on Minato’s, but Kakashi means it and he can tell his sincerity has thrown them off guard. “Oh, um,” Rin coughs, pinking in a bit of embarrassment at his genuine interest and the encouragement from Kushina and Obito. “Well, after...after the Kannabi Bridge, since Obito was busy mastering your fathers tanto and the Sharingan, I decided to seek out shishou and became her apprentice with Shizune…”

Kakashi spends the next few hours listening to his teammates lives and commits every detail to memory.


“We figured you’d be a little weirded out living here so you’ll be staying with me,” Obito says around a yawn, but there's a touch of insecurity in his tone.

Thirteen-year-old Obito would never have offered in the first place, would have shouted in protest until he was blue in the face, made a racket until sensei ordered him to settle down. Thirteen-year-old Kakashi would’ve flat out said no and walked away.

Neither of them are thirteen anymore.

“Alright then,” Kakashi nods easily, “lead the way.”

The Namikaze’s wave them off and Rin splits from them halfway to go to her own home with a goodbye and a promise to meet up tomorrow since she has two more days of leave, so it’s just them running across rooftops at a leisurely pace in companionable silence. They head towards an area Kakashi vaguely recognizes from before Pein’s attack, a block of apartments with more civilians than shinobi, close to the market and a good ways away from the Uchiha compound, and wonders if Obito’s home is like his personality - bright, cheery, and a chaotic mess.

What he sees is completely different that what he expects.

Obito welcomes him in almost nervously, standing awkwardly in the middle of his living room and rubbing the back of his neck as he points out the kitchen and dining room as well as the bathroom and two bedrooms. He shifts nervously on his feet, as if he’s not sure he should offer Kakashi tea or show him personally to the guest room, and Kakashi honestly doesn’t know what to do either. It seems, without sensei or Rin or even Kushina around as a buffer, being in the same room will not be quite as easy as they thought.

It’s when Obito tells him to stay here and goes to put his gear away that Kakashi realizes why the place feels so strange.

The apartment is almost exactly like his.

Not in possessions or location, and Kakashi’s lacks a proper sitting room or second bedroom - “for a few nieces and nephews that like to sleep over” - but they are identical in spirit despite the little bits of personality it has. There are very few pictures he can see - a small frame of Team 7 on his nightstand that mirrors Kakashi’s among a couple others - and almost no decorations aside from some children's artwork on the fridge. There’s a bookshelf full of various literature - studies on politics, geographical map books, tomes on jutsu and theory, kenjutsu texts, and more than a few clan-specific scrolls Kakashi recognizes from the few times he’s been to the Uchiha compound while it was still inhabited.

Aside from a few papers littering the dining room table and dishes in the sink, the apartment is bare and almost militant in its lack of personality, a far cry from sensei's home.

Obito ambles back in just his undershirt and loose pants, breaking Kakashi’s thoughts, black hair falling slightly into his eyes without his ridiculous orange goggles and footsteps obnoxious in the quiet apartment. Kakashi wonders if it’s on purpose. He doesn’t comment.

“Since we didn’t really plan ahead, here’s some of my stuff you can wear until you get some clothes. Good thing you’re not so short anymore, maybe you won’t drown in my shirt.” Obito smirks, tossing a small pile of clothing into his hands. He jerks his head towards the hallway he came from. “Bathroom’s down the hall to the left. Go shower, you still reek of the hospital.”

Kakashi rolls his visible eye good naturedly as he walks passed. “Happens when your nosy teammates and nosy Council won’t let you take a proper shower after waking up from a three-day coma.”

Obito sticks his tongue out juvenilely at him and the world settles closer to normal.

His shower is quick and he’s glad to be rid of the slightly-ill fitting uniform he’d swiped earlier. He stalls when he sees the undershirt, though - custom made with extra fabric for a mask - and wrinkles his nose at the faint musty smell even as he puts it on with only slightly trembling hands. It’s not his sleeveless gear that he wore during and after his days as an ANBU operative, but the clothes he wore as a young teenager that stretches just enough to fit his larger frame and cover his face. The borrowed shirt is a bit wide in the shoulders and the pants need to be tightened a bit around his waist, hems brushing against his ankles strangely, but they are otherwise the same size and height.

It’s a strange thought, that Obito has grown into a young man when in Kakashi’s mind he will always be a half-crushed teenager, but he discards the morbid sentiment and follows his nose to the kitchen where the scent of tea is strongest.

Obito looks tired and a bit uncomfortable but still content sitting at the small dining room table, a steaming cup of tea clutched between his hands with another unpoured cup on the counter as a silent offer, and Kakashi can guess why. It’s not easy, this strange situation, and he can feel exhaustion and uncertainty start to expand where the adrenaline and elation has left. He settles across from Obito with his own cup of tea, Kushina’s special blend meant to settle nerves after a particularly hazardous mission, both quiet in their thoughts as the moon shines high and bright in the sky.

He notices Obito’s less that subtle glances at his face, still covered by the mask, but it’s perhaps the first time his friend has seen him out of uniform; damp hair falling in front of his scarred eye, shoulders slightly slumped with exhaustion, wearing nothing but the comfortable clothes given. He wonders what he looks like, because he feels vulnerable.

They have a lot to talk about, a lot of buried issues to sort through, but for now, he has one question on his mind.

“So why aren’t you and Rin married?”

He narrowly avoids a spray of hot tea, watching with thinly veiled, slightly sadistic amusement as his friend chokes on the bitter liquid.

Obito shoots him a watery-eyed glare. “What?! Why’re you asking me that?”

Kakashi leans back, arms crossed and eye narrowed. “I didn’t die for you to not make a move, idiot.”

“Bastard,” Obito grumbles at him as he wipes up the spill, flush creeping up his neck and spreading across his face like wildfire.

Ah, the curse of having an Uchiha’s fair skin and no mask to cover it.

“It’s not like I haven’t thought about it, you know. It’s just…” Obito stops, looking into his teacup like it holds all the answers in the world, “she was still in love with you when you died. I couldn’t compete with that. Still can’t. Her crush, throwing a mission and dying to save her and her best friend? C’mon.”

Kakashi unsympathetically kicks him under the table, ignoring the multitude of swears thrown at him in a furious hiss. “Still an idiot after all these years. She likes you, make a move already.”

“Since when are you a relationship counselor?” Obito snarks, a little less cowed but still unsure, pouting mulishly at nothing, “Besides, what if she just likes me because of her old feelings for y- OW WHAT THE HELL BAKASHI!”

“Shut up, you’ll wake the neighbors,” Kakashi chides, foot smarting a bit at how hard he kicked the other man's shin. “You said it yourself. It was a crush, a long time ago. She’s over it.”

Probably. Kakashi can’t say he’s very good with emotions, as evidenced by the multiple times he’s been confused by or pissed off one or more of the females (and males, and everyone in general, really) in his life, but he’s sure that the camaraderie he shared with her earlier is just that. Fractured and riddled with cracks and land mines, but platonic all the same.

Obito stays stubbornly silent.

Alright then, different approach. “Why don’t you talk to her about it?”

Obito glares at him for a moment longer before his ire leaves him and he slumps dejectedly. “It’s not that simple.”

“‘Rin, I’m in love with you.’ Six words. I assumed you knew at least that many. Or ‘marry me’, two words. Even easier.”

“I hate you.”

Kakashi pinches the bridge of his nose, too tired to indulge the others ridiculousness anymore tonight, temples pulsing with steadily increasing pain. He sighs and mutters, “I’m too old for this. You’re too old for this.” Obito still has that stubborn look on his face though, and Kakashi knows this is going to be a work in progress. “Fine. When you get yourself together and finally make a move, I’m going to be the first one that says ‘I told you so’.”

Obito grins. “I know you will, bastard.”

The Uchiha gets up to go to sleep a short while later with a quiet goodnight, a genuine smile on his lips, leaving Kakashi to his thoughts in the early morning.

Obito has left his classes with Hayate for the last few days and plans on stopping in to relieve the other instructor for a bit, but afterwards he is free to spend the day with Kakashi and Rin, and later sensei, Kushina, Jiraiya, and Tsunade. Kakashi should sleep, he knows, especially with the meeting he has with Inoichi and Ibiki in - he glances at the ridiculous frog clock on the wall - five hours for further questioning, so he languidly puts the teacup in the sink and makes his way to the guest bedroom.

He won’t sleep for some time, he knows. It feels like there’s a boulder on his chest, weighing him down while he’s at the bottom of a freezing lake and drowning with a blindfold on, and he can’t swim, can’t breathe, can’t do much but ride out the numbing sensation that begins to spread from his fingers and toes. The burning in his lungs that has only worsened throughout the day is near unbearable now, but he knows how to lock down on the irrational fear and panic that threatens to overwhelm him so he won’t wake Obito, can silently ride out the claustrophobia clawing at his throat. He’s done this before, plenty of times, and stops by the bathroom to wash his hands exactly twelve times until they are raw and red.

He closes his eyes and all he sees is blood.

Chapter Text

Obito stumbles blearily out of his bedroom five hours later, yawning wide enough to crack his jaw, and nearly trips when he sees Kakashi leaning casually against the kitchen counter in his full uniform with a cup of tea and a pug wearing a blue uniform beside him who raises a paw in greeting.

Obito waves dumbly back but his eyes are on his friend, on Kakashi who looks sleep rumpled and every bit the scarecrow in his name and so unlike the put-together chunin-turned-jounin in his memories, and if Obito didn’t know any better, he would think his teammate hadn’t slept at all. Obito almost hadn’t until exhaustion finally dragged him under, terror plaguing his mind that this wasn’t real and that he would wake up to an empty apartment, but seeing his friend calmly reading the paper in his kitchen like he has no better place to be, it hits him with a dizzying sense of relief.

It wasn’t a dream.

“What?”

Obito nearly jumps out of his skin and meets Kakash’s lazy gaze, startled, “I just- um...”

He doesn’t want to say what’s on his mind in fear of doing something embarrassing like crying again, but Kakashi’s inquisitive stare is hard to ignore (it’s hard to ignore he’s alive and here in the first place).

He rubs the back of his head sheepishly and says honestly, “I’m just surprised yesterday wasn’t a dream.”

He looks away in search of his favorite mug, not willing to deal with Kakashi’s mocking so early in the morning from the unintended confession, but nearly drops it when he hears Kakashi reply simply, “I’m glad it wasn’t.”

“Yeah…” Obito agrees, quiet as he sets the kettle to boil. “Yeah, me too.”

His morning routine is now interrupted so he can’t help all the noise he makes as he grabs his favorite mug and the dwindling stash of coffee he picked up in Grass, but Kakashi doesn’t eye him disapprovingly for all the bumbling gracelessness like he half-expects - actually looks amused , the bastard - and merely keeps his attention on the newspaper he’s somehow acquired.

The pug, Pakkun, Obito remembers vaguely, growls something at Kakashi, too low for Obito to hear, before he poofs away into a cloud of smoke. Obito doesn’t remember sensing the summoning and wonders when his teammate managed to do that without him noticing.

His thoughts are broken when Kakashi comments airily, “You’re up early.”.

It’s not so much an observation as it is a roundabout inquiry, and Obito smirks a bit at how pointedly disinterested Kakashi sounds. “Yeah, I gotta get there a bit early to prep before the students start trickling in. Anko’s been helping out but I know she probably has some pranks set up for the kids and if I get another civvie parent breaking down my door to yell at me about an ‘unsafe learning environment, ’ I’m actually going to go crazy.”

His skin prickles and he looks up to see Kakashi looking at him, eye still half-mast but intent. “Early.”

Obito blinks for a minute, and he can  feel a laugh bubble up in his chest at what would’ve been a gobsmacked expression on anyone else, has to beat down on the old, ridiculous urge to puff up proudly about how he’s grown up since their last mission together.

He doesn’t do either.

He rubs the back of his neck again in faint embarrassment, ducking his head, “Ah, yeah. I-um, I get to places on time. Usually. At least I try not to be late like- like before. I have to leave an hour or so earlier than usual to but...yeah. I’m not late anymore.”

I don’t ever want to be too late again, Obito thinks fiercely.

His head shoots up in surprise when he hears Kakashi not scolding or mocking him but laughing , an honest, quiet huff that sounds a little forced and a little sad but completely genuine.

He’s about to ask Kakashi if he’s hit his head recently until the other man says, “We make quite a pair, don’t we?”

“What do you…” Obito looks at the clock, remembers Kakashi telling him he has an appointment with the Torture and Interrogation Department at seven sharp, remembers that it is already seven in the morning , and gapes, “You-!” he jumps up from his seat, nearly spilling his coffee everywhere and very close to shouting, “YOU’RE LATE! You know you’re late, it takes like twenty minutes to get to headquarters and get through clearance, what are you doing Bakashi! You hate being late! You get to places early, why the hell are you still here? You’re- Ibiki’s gonna kill you!”

Kakashi nods, like it’s all true, and his words come back to Obito in a flash. We make quite a pair, don’t we?

Oh , he thinks, more awake than he’s been in a long time.

After a pause, Kakashi tilts his head to the side and muses, “So, what excuse should I use? Black cat? No, too boring. Helping an old lady cross the street? Hm, I need something more creative if I want to annoy Ibiki.”

Obito blinks in shock, unable to get over the fact that apparently his uptight, by-the-book, follow-the-rules, never-be-late, emotions-are-weakness teammate is already late for an important meeting and doesn’t seem to care, is thinking of ridiculous excuses that ring familiar in Obito’s mind because they used to be his excuses once upon a time. Excuses that still sit at the tip of his tongue at times but he swallows down because he was too late to save his comrade so he has no right to use them anymore, because there is no excuse for letting your friend die , because being a shinobi isn’t all fun and games, right?

(“One of Iwa nin caused the cave to collapse. A rock hit me in my blind spot and I went down, and Obito...Obito threw me out of the way. He was half-crushed under the boulder instead, and alive long enough to give me his eye. He saved my life at the cost of his.”

“Kakashi! Oi Kakashi, you bastard, stay awake! You gotta- you gotta stay awake, okay? Sensei’s coming! You can’t just- just do something stupid like get killed for me you selfish asshole! Call me an idiot, yell at me, do something, please just- dammit! Rin! Rin, is he-?”)

We make quite a pair, don’t we?

What a twisted way to finally begin to understand each other.

Despite his morbid thoughts and Kakashi’s haunting story lingering in his mind, words that probably won’t leave him for as long as he lives, Obito can’t help but think with a slowly forming grin of his own, we really, really do. “I dunno, I always liked the classic ‘I had to save a kitten out of a tree’ one,” he offers with shrug,“it probably won’t faze Ibiki, but Inoichi-san will definitely think you’ve lost your marbles.”

“Hm, that’s true. Ibiki’s a hard one to crack.”

A strange peace settles around them as they come up with excuses more absurd than the last, time slipping by as they talk with none of the lingering awkwardness from last night, and Obito thinks he wouldn’t mind getting up early if this is what he wakes up to.

They both end up late with the same ridiculous excuse on their lips.

“Sorry I’m late, I got lost on the road of life.”


Ibiki doesn’t bat an eye.

Then again, Kakashi doesn’t really expect him to.

Morino Ibiki has always been as immovable as the Hokage Mountain when he wants to be, the hard edges of his face sometimes sharp and cold as ice-streaked stone. Not even Kakashi’s - admittedly half-assed - attempts at making him twitch have ever worked, and he doesn’t think it’s going to start now.

It’s a trait that the Hatake both loathes and admires.

On one notable occasion during the height of his career in ANBU, he remembers droning on about nothing for a good half-hour during one of his mandatory psych evals after a particularly long, gruesome mission (he’s not allowed to see the regular psychologists after his second one broke down in the middle of one of their sessions) only to find out that the notes Ibiki had been so diligently taking the entire time were actually items on his grocery list for later that day.

Kakashi had laughed, raspy and broken, for the first time in seven months because of that.

But this Ibiki doesn’t know him, and Kakashi has to remind himself that the harsh looking man in front of him hasn’t listened to his stupid excuses for years and years, probably won’t tolerate long-winded stories of fantasy like the one back at home - especially not from someone he perceives as a threat to Konoha or her people.

Kakashi doesn’t particularly like the man, in all honesty - he is far too sadistic for Kakashi to be completely comfortable being around for long periods of time, and he takes a little too much joy out of his work. But Kakashi can see why the Sandaime held him in such high regard. He is a good man, as good as circumstance and perception allow him to be, with such staunch loyalty to the village it makes even Kakashi’s unwavering dedication seem weak and halfhearted at best, which is why Kakashi knows this is not a time to test that terrifying, limitless patience.

The head interrogator stands steady and solid in front of him in his usual black trench coat and shinobi gear, scarred head covered by the scarf that doesn’t conceal the rough lines gouged into the his face. There are a few new ones Kakashi’s perfect memory doesn’t recall and it just makes him all the more menacing.

“Hatake Kakashi, presumed jounin of Konohagakure, identification number 009720. Follow me.” Ibiki gruffly orders.

Kakashi does, walking behind the man at a leisurely slouch with two nervous guards behind him - neither of which he recognizes.

He’s sure Anko must be cackling in the shadows somewhere.

He’s taken to an interrogation room he somewhat recognizes only because it is so similar to the countless others he’s been in - debriefings after long undercover ops are never fun, and he mentally shudders at the memory of being both the interrogator and the interrogated.

He sits without command, already well acquainted with procedures, and Ibiki’s face gives away nothing.

To his mild surprise, instead of Yamanaka Inoichi, a different shinobi comes to stand in front of him - blond and vaguely familiar. Maybe a Yamanaka branch member? He’s young, probably a bit younger than Kakashi, but he must be skilled for Ibiki to entrust him with this.

The man doesn’t give much away either, at least not visually. It takes a lot more training to conceal all his tells though, and Kakashi’s sensitive nose can pick up on the scents of nervousness and anxiety, exhaustion and an undercurrent of something vaguely sweet like honeyed milk. Interesting. “Hatake Kakashi-san. For the first portion of the evaluation-” Kakashi internally rolls his eyes, evaluation his ass, “-I need to see both eyes and look into your memories of yesterday, specifically the Council meeting after your background overview.”

Kakashi knows this little trick. It’s a favorite of Ibiki’s, to test the legitimacy of one's memories without diving deeply into the psyche (something very few can do without the Yamanaka’s secret techniques, even few still with enough skill to perform them safely) as well as gauge the subject's mental fortitude and emotional stability.

And of course, Ibiki just had to choose the most trying part of the meeting.

“Please reveal your eye.”

“Please reveal your eye.”

Somewhere in his periphery, he can see Uchiha Fugaku stiffen in his seat and Hyuuga Hiashi lean forward in interest.

With a silent sigh, he lifts his headband and opens his scarred eye.

Gasps erupt immediately at the sight of Obito’s Sharingan, three tomoe spinning lazily despite the sudden spike in chakra and killing intent that he can now see clearly, colors suddenly brighter and lines of the Council Members craggy faces sharper. He isn’t immediately accosted by ANBU despite the white-knuckled grip some shinobi have on their weapons, which isn’t much of a surprise. It just means they had been informed prior to now (through rumors or an official announcement, Kakashi doesn’t know or care) otherwise he is sure he there would have been a bigger uproar with more than a few of the people here demanding his head before he could say another word.

The lingering disbelief twisting some faces fades completely, only to be replaced with contempt. He ignores Danzo’s sharp, sharp gaze and the intrigue that glimmers for half a second before it’s shut away.

Minato stays professional at the first sight of it but there are grim lines around his mouth, faint and grieving, no doubt remembering Kakashi’s story and knowing he’s about to hear it again.

The sudden hush that had follows the reveal is broken by Uchiha Fugaku’s gravely voice.

“How did you acquire the Sharingan?”

The words are so tightly controlled and void of anything like rage or accusation that Kakashi honestly can’t tell if the Uchiha Clan Head is completely detached from the sight of a clan member's eye or planning his assassination.

It doesn’t matter.

Kakashi steels himself, still a little raw from the afternoon of essentially spilling his soul not even a half a day ago now to the very people who deserved to hear it most, but has always been a shinobi before a man, a tool before a human being. It takes half a second to shutter the heartache and remember emotions are weakness.

It’s sad how easily he slips into that mindset again.

“During the mission to destroy the Kannabi Bridge eighteen years ago, I lost my eye protecting my teammate Uchiha Obito, and the incident caused him to activate his Sharingan. We went on to rescue our teammate, Nohara Rin, who’d been captured earlier in the mission and interrogated for information. Enemy Iwa nin caused the cave we found her in to collapse and a rock hit me in my blind side.”

The faces in front of him blur as he sinks back into those moments, impassive words never giving way to the brimming sorrow and rage that twist sickly in his gut even nearly two decades later.

“Obito pushed me out of the way of a falling boulder and half his body was crushed by the rubble. He was still alive long enough to entrust his remaining Sharingan to me and Rin was able to complete the transplant with little damage done to me or the Sharingan. Before we could be overwhelmed by back up, Minato-sensei arrived to take out the remaining enemy and we completed the mission to destroy the bridge.”

It’s my fault, it’s my fault, we left him behind, we left him to die and it’s all my-

He says it all with the callous professionalism expected from him, tone devoid of any of the crippling guilt he still feels coursing through him, lacking the proper meaning to express just profound Obito’s words and actions that day had changed him so fundamentally.

After all, they aren’t gathered here for a bedtime story told by a war-weary veteran who’s survived longer than he should have and is living on borrowed time; they don’t care for the (heroic, life-changing) actions of one black sheep from another lifetime who they’ll never meet despite seeing him at Minato’s side with orange goggles and a wide grin.

Kakashi can’t explain just how much of his world is shaped by a handful of words and an unfair sacrifice.

Even if he did, he doubts they would understand or even try.

He comes back to himself quickly, like surfacing from a dream, and notices the pale complexion of the Yamanaka in front of him - Yamanaka Ryuu, husband of Yamanaka Tsumaki and father of baby Yamanaka Ko, protect them protect them, just returned from interrogating suspected ROOT members, promoted to jounin one year ago and there’s one red eye, just one, blood red red red red RED - and mentally shakes away the foreign memories and feelings clinging to him.

Kakashi slowly covers his eye again, bored gaze meeting Ibiki’s steady one.

Ryuu looks at Ibiki, the blue of his eyes brighter in contrast to the paleness of his face, and it just makes the resemblance to Asuma’s student all the more apparent. Something must pass between them with a Yamanaka technique because Kakashi’s sharp ears can’t hear anything but Ryuu’s slightly ragged breaths. The moment passes and the two shinobi standing guard, tense and wary, escort Ryuu out of the interrogation room, leaving Kakashi alone with Ibki and his unreadable gaze.

Kakashi shakes off the urge to assure Yamanaka-san that yes, his wife will love it if he comes home from work early for once and that he should bring her favorite flowers, tulips, because he doesn’t actually know anything about the man. The side effects of such an invasive procedure (even on the most basic level) are the most annoying. I hate mind techniques.

Kakashi breaks the silence ten minutes later when it’s obvious Ibiki won’t. “That was a little mean, don’t you think?”

Ibiki’s voice is monotone. “I have no idea what you mean.”

“That was Ryuu-kun’s, what, seventh time performing that technique in the last four days?” Kakashi asks, but he doesn’t really need to because he already knows. “He’s got a six month old at home, you really think he got a full night's sleep before this?” No wonder the man smelled faintly like a nursery.

“I’ll take that into consideration next time,” Ibiki deadpans, “but you’re not here to evaluate my employees.”

He walks over to the one table in the room and picks up a single file - thick despite only holding maybe eight years worth of data. Kakashi knows this because that’s his file.

“Hatake Kakashi, jounin exam evaluation, age twelve. Personality described as ‘efficient and capable in the field, highly intelligent, high potential for leadership position, organized to an almost obsessive-compulsive degree - see page seven for further details. Apathetic to thoughts and feelings of your peers, follows shinobi rule book rigidly, disregards anyone who is not a commanding officer - see page nine for further details. Arrogant but not to a dangerous degree, callous and ruthless in regards to completing missions, puts the mission before wellbeing of his team confirmed by several teammates and team leaders - further assessment required.’ Any of that sound about right?”

Kakashi supresses a wince. He doesn’t recall ever accessing his results after his promotion but those, unfortunately, sounded like fairly accurate observations. “Devilishly handsome and charming are missing, but I suppose that was an apt description at the time.”

The subtle, oppressive air surrounding Ibiki lessens even if his face doesn’t outwardly change. “Seems they missed smart-ass too. I’ll make a note of it.”

Kakashi eye smiles.

“I don’t care about your world. It has no effect on this one and I already have my hands full with one village. Who you are now is the question,” Ibiki begins, and the severity of the situation returns. “How you got here. How long you’re here for. Have any answers for me after a night of sleeping on it?”

Something scratches against his skin even beneath his clothes and after a moment he recognizes it as Ibiki’s chakra molding to his body - a constant check on his vitals like his heart beat, body temperature, and blood pressure, maybe even deeper and touching the very outskirts of his mind. Just this alone would cause a normal prisoners heart to skip several times in terror or surprise, and Kakashi is no exception, but he wills it steady after two beats.

He considers the man before him soberly, lone eye dark and piercing. This, this , is the time for the brutal honesty he is so well-known for, at any age and any time in any world. “I’m not the same person who died in Obito’s place, but I’m not a threat to Konoha or anyone in it.”

No stutter in his heart, no lie in his words.

“I don’t know how I got here, but I remember a mission to retrieve something from deep within Lightning Country, near Genbu.” It’s fuzzy, but like a dream it escapes him faster the more he tries to concentrate.

He catches Ibiki mutter darkly, “The ancient lands.”

The huge mountain ranges and heavy, year-round mist made the land near the coast almost impossible to traverse, with only a single, dangerous path for Kumo shinobi to reach Genbu - Turtle Island, Kumo’s version of the Forest of Death. It’s old land, even older than the waters surrounding Uzushiogakure, and it’s not uncommon to find ancient cities buried deep within the earth and reaching all across the Five Nations. Kakashi is sure he was sent to one of the old temples or abandoned cities to take something of great value.

He shakes off the phantom sensation of breathing too thin air, “I fought someone for a while, a few leagues away from Shimogakure, before I blacked out and woke up here.”

He doesn’t need to say he can’t recall a single detail about the person or the techniques they used, only that they were unfamiliar to him which rules out quite a few suspects but doesn’t narrow it down enough. Whatever he’d taken, it must’ve been worth going after someone of his fame and caliber to take it back.

Ibiki grunts an affirmative, and the cold, rough feeling of his chakra recedes at last. “You were in bad shape when Gai and his team found you. They lost you on the operating table twice before they finally got you stabilized.”

Kakashi...didn’t realize his condition had been so severe.

It explains why Rin and Minato - the two most likely to stay updated on his condition - had looked so relieved after Rin’s short physical after dinner.

Ibiki continues, and Kakashi doesn’t need to strain to hear the suspicion in his words, “Funny thing is, only half of the injuries came from combat. The other half is still up for debate, but Tsunade-hime seems to think some inhuman force is what dealt the near fatal damage, and in areas that wouldn’t cause instant death.”

Ibiki holds his gaze for a long moment, piercing and unnervingly perceptive, before he lets up.

“Now, let’s start your official evaluation.”


“You’re doing it again.”

Rin nearly jumps and looks up, startled, to see Shizune’s concerned frown. “I’m what?”

Shizune nods to her hands playing with a scrap of gauze, wrapping and rewrapping the worn fabric around her finger over and over again in perfect conformity. Rin stops her hands and flushes guiltily at being caught. “That. You only do that when you’re anxious.” She pauses, thoughtful, before softly prompting, “Is it Kakashi-san?”

Rin flushes for a different reason this time and has to make a conscious effort to not rewrap the scrap of fabric around her finger again. “It’s not- I’m just-” she bites her lip, slumping with a sigh, “yeah, kind of.”

She moves over a bit to let Shizune sit beside her on the bench, thankful for the privacy of the empty employee lounge of the hospital and the peaceful, if temporary, lull in the halls.

Shizune crosses her legs and looks at her expectantly. “Alright, spill. What’d he do?”

Rin rolls her eyes, “He didn’t do anything, Shizune. It’s just- it’s a lot to take in. And adjusting- it’s hard, I guess.”

Shizune’s hand settles over her own for a moment, dark eyes so understanding and earnest it makes Rin’s breath catch sometimes. Tell me. I’m here for you. How is she so lucky to have not one but two best friends that know her so well?

Rin draws in a shaky breath, “I was...I was pretty devastated when he died, remember?”

Shizune nods, mouth twisting, and how could she not when she was the one to pull Rin from her desolation?

“I thought I got over it though, as much as you can get over the death of your first-...your teammate. But seeing him again...just so many feelings came rushing back and I don’t really know what to do with them.”

She feels Shizune shift beside her, tone deceptively light when she asks, “What kind of feelings?”

Rin finds it in herself to laugh softly in bewildered amusement. “Irritation, surprisingly.” She shakes her head, “First thing they did when they saw each other was fall back on their name-calling. I couldn’t help but remember an old mission we had when we ran border patrol along Yugakure a few months after our team formed. They just kept- kept sniping at each other for the whole two weeks, and I got so sick of it I told them both to knock it off before I knocked them out.”

Shizune grins a little, unsurprised, and Rin grins a little back.

“That was the first time I ever snapped at Kakashi. Funny that’s the first thing I thought think of.” She quiets, mirth fading when she whispers, “Guilt. I saw him, and...and all I saw was someone with an entire life to live.”

Shizune doesn’t let go of her hand. She smiles and it’s a weak, trembling imitation of her usual bright cheer, but it doesn’t lack the fond wonder she always used to have when talking about something amazing he did or said when they were young.

“Did you know he became a jounin-sensei?” Shizune doesn’t, obviously, but it’s so strange and real to say it out loud, “He didn’t say much about his students. I don’t even know who they are, but it’s easy to see he cares about them. He’s so proud of them. I can’t stop thinking, what if I was better? Stronger? What if I’d saved him, would he be a jounin-sensei still? Who are his students training under now?”

She’s thankful, so incredibly thankful Shizune doesn’t tell her it’s not her fault, that only Tsunade-shishou and very few others could’ve done more to save Kakashi, that she understands in a way only medics who’ve had patients die under their hands can.

She doesn’t mention Kakashi’s version of events, can’t even think about the possibility of Obito taking his place without feeling so, so sick.

She’s had years to mourn one teammate, she can’t imagine mourning another.

She sighs, leaning back against the wall and looking at the stained ceiling tiles. “There’s a lot of admiration too. Affection. Awe. I can’t tell if it’s from seeing him now or lingering feelings from when we were young.”

“Does it change your feelings for Obito?” Shizune carefully asks.

Rin doesn’t blush or stutter, far too old and confident to feel any embarrassment for her feelings, but it’s a question she honestly doesn’t know the answer to.

Her friend eyes her dubiously, and Rin knows her senior apprentice is wondering just how far gone Rin had to have been on the last Hatake to be unsure of herself now. “I still...my feelings haven’t changed, ‘zune. It’s just it was easy to sort of idolize someone our age who’d been a chunin for three years while we were finishing the academy, you know? He was strong and smart, always knew what to do, sensei’s favorite even if he’ll never admit it. He was so mysterious and talented...it was easy to get caught up on who I thought he was. Who he is is...someone different. Someone I think I fell for before he even existed.”

Shizune knocks her shoulder against hers, gently prodding, “What do you mean? I thought he was just another genius.”

Rin blinks away the image of her Kakashi, young and angry and someone she looked up to despite his age and name. “Did you know Kakashi personally? When we were kids?”

Shizune blinks at the sudden question but shakes her head. “Not really. It was more like I knew of him, mainly from my teammates and some of your classmates. I heard rumors about his dad too, and then there was a huge buzz about him when he became a chunin, but I left with shishou before I ever met him. And then the mission...”

Rin nods, expecting as much. Typically only older shinobi really remembered Kakashi from the years he’d been out on B and C-ranked missions while the rest of his class finished the academy.

(They all said the same thing when they thought they could get away with it - that he was a good shinobi, could’ve been one of the best,

but he wasn’t good at being human.)

“I didn’t really see it when I was on his team, but I knew he wasn’t...the nicest, and he wasn’t very patient. Comes with the territory of being a genius, I guess. Things that took us months to learn occupied him for maybe a week or two before he mastered it. Drove Obito nuts,” Rin laughs, but it’s not a nice sound. “He was so blunt about everything and I could never tell if he didn’t know he hurt someone's feelings or if he just didn’t care.

“This Kakashi...he’s different.” She looks at Shizune with watery smile, wondering if it’s normal to feel so much for someone she’s spent years pushing away in her memories, “I spent maybe twelve hours with him after he got out of the hospital and he-...he told us...a lot of stuff that happened to him. And then we all had dinner together at sensei’s house, and it hit me that I don’t think I’ve ever seen him look happy. How sad is that? Teammates for years, and I’d never known he could look like that.”

She clenches her jaw, has to use her carefully crafted control to keep herself from crying or saying something she shouldn’t, but it’s hard. The entire day yesterday was like a dream and it’s just now hitting her that this is all real.

“I know I’ve barely gotten to know him, and I know he’s not our -” she presses her lips together in a thin line, and breathes, “It’s just, I learned a lot about him. I already care about him, about this Kakashi. He fits so well , Shizune.”

Shizune just nods, because of course she understands what Team Minato meant to Rin even if she never felt like that about any team she’d gone on missions with.

They were Team Seven, a new generation, a new legend in the making.

When their sensei became the Yellow Flash, there were bets on whether they’d become the next Sannin, because very few teams became so renowned without the special connection that made the first generation of Sannin so incredible, and even Jiraiya had once said he could see the potential, the greatness in them if they could just get passed their personal differences. Rin could see it in her shishou’s eyes sometimes even if she never spoke a word out loud, the what if always hanging in the air when Team Minato was reunited and grieving for their own.

It was a nice dream , Rin thinks a little wistfully.

It still sends a pang through her, the potential never fully realized, but it’s an old ache like most of her scars.

“Does Obito get along with him?” Shizune asks, gently breaking the silence that had fallen. “Aside from the name-calling, of course.”

Rin grins a little, shrugging, “Kind of. We haven’t really gotten passed the whole “from another world” thing but he and Obito fell back into their banter pretty easily. They’re just...nicer, now, I think. Civil. I don’t think they can or want to go back to what they were, you know, before . They’re still Kakashi and Obito, though.”

“Has he had his psych evaluation yet?” Shizune asks, but there is more caution than curiosity in the way she asks it.

“He’s seeing Morino-san right now, and later we’re all having dinner at sensei’s house again.”

Shizune’s words sharpen. “And they’re not going to keep him under observation until Ibiki-san is done with his analysis? Or get a second opinion from Yamanaka-san?”

Now Rin is confused. “I- no, why would they?”

She searches her friends face for an answer but she doesn’t understand the apprehension she finds.

“Sensei said it was a routine evaluation to add to his file,” Rin adds hesitantly.

This doesn’t seem to relax Shizune like she hopes. Instead her friend just watches her carefully with a hawk-like gaze Rin can barely read, and for all that Rin follows Tsunade’s style of fighting more closely of the two of them, she thinks Shizune is the one with their masters sharp, sharp eyes.

Rin blinks rapidly a few times to clear the double-vision she has of her master and fellow apprentice overlapping each other and attempts to lift them from the strange mood that has fallen. “Anyway, enough of that.” She declares, a little more steady than before. “I just remembered, have there been any updates on his medical report? I need make some notes on his physical condition I noticed weren’t written down.”

She doesn’t know how the medics handling such a high profile case missed important things like musculature damage and closed tenketsu in his chakra network - non-fatal afterthoughts that Tsunade had left in their care when the major injuries had been taken care of - but she’ll be damned if small details like these would somehow be used against her teammate later on when politicians masquerading as shinobi came snooping for something to use to keep her teammate leashed. And she’s not above verbally eviscerating the senior staff in charge of Kakashi’s care when she or Shizune were off duty.

The physical she managed to make Kakashi sit still for after dinner had been telling, and those oversights would not be tolerated.

Shizune doesn’t answer, expression unreadable.

Before Rin can ask what’s wrong, a nurse is shouting - someone is coding down the hall - and they are both once again lost in the chaos of running an understaffed hospital full of injured shinobi and civilians, minds occupied by vastly different things.


His team is already waiting for him when he arrives at the training ground, the sun still high but sinking quickly to the horizon, and it’s such a strange perspective to be the one late instead of Obito who has a smug grin on his face.

The Uchiha takes great glee in calling, “You’re late, Bakashi! What took you so long?”

Rin punches him in the arm. “How was the evaluation?”

Kakashi can only shrug and say, “Ibiki hasn’t changed a bit,” but he knows they understand by the sympathetic wince he gets from them both.

“Well,” Rin starts optimistically, “at least this will keep the Council off your back.”

Not enough to keep their guards from shadowing me, but at least they’ve stopped trying to antagonize me for the time being , Kakashi thinks, but he doesn’t say any of this out loud.

Before Obito can open his mouth and say something that’ll get him another punch in the arm, an incredibly familiar voice bellows in the distance-

“MY ETERNAL RIVAL! THE SPRINGTIME OF YOUTH HAS RESURRECTED-!”

All three turn to see Asuma kick the crying Beautiful Green Beast into a tree, cutting off the man's very loud and tearful declarations of youth and springtime, “He’s from a different world, Gai, not back from the dead. Geez.”

He and Kurenai step onto the training grounds, looking relaxed and confident as they stroll up to the former Team Minato with a sobered Gai trailing behind them, still grinning but content to withhold the shouting for now. They look the same as last night, he thinks, maybe more well rested than before. Or maybe that’s because they’re actually smiling instead of standing still as stoic observers.

“Obito, Rin,” Kurenai greets warmly before looking at Kakashi with intense red eyes. She sounds unsure when she acknowledges, “Hatake-san?”

Kakashi can feel their piercing stares, assessing and wary, and remembers a time (before he’d become human again instead of cold steel wrapped in blood) when they played together as children before starting the academy, the classes they shared for the short time he was in school, a lifetime of memories he has with them that they do not share. But they do know him, to an extent, and they look at him with something like old sadness and reminiscence, as if they are remembering the same things he is.

He wonders if this is what it’s like to be grieved instead of the griever.

Kakashi flashes his signature smile and waves off her stiff formality, “Maa, just Kakashi is fine Kurenai. I might be dead in this world but it’s not like we weren’t friends before. Asuma, Gai, good to see you.”

He falters at the stuttered silence that follows, glancing at his old team and their awed expressions then back at his old friends’ shocked ones. They recover admirably enough, but it’s just a reminder that they hadn’t seen him grow out of the arrogant child genius he’d always been.

They didn’t see the process that made him what he is now; brittle and fake and smiling for the world to see.

Asuma recovers first, a genuine smile on his lips when he asks, “So, what’s it like being here? Any different from your world besides the whole ‘being dead’ thing?”

Obito and Rin tense beside him but Kakashi doesn’t hesitate. “Hm, I suppose. Some things are different, but it seems some things aren’t meant to change,” he answers cryptically with a shrug. It’s almost funny to watch their reactions, catching the slightly disbelieving look that Kurenai gives Rin and Obito, the way Asuma has forgotten to take a drag of his lit cigarette, how Gai hasn’t stopped scrutinizing him since he opened his mouth the first time.

But Kakashi also doesn’t miss the glinting metal bands adorning Asuma and Kurenai’s fingers that he didn’t see last night, matching and simple, and he’s hit with another wave of nostalgia and loss that he isn’t quite ready for.

Asuma had been a reliable comrade and his death had been a huge blow to morale, but Kakashi had also lost a good friend that day, remembering a skinny, rebellious chunin that choked on more cigarettes than he smoked, determined to grow out his scraggly beard and prove himself as more than a Kage’s son, who ran off to join the Daimyo’s royal guard to do just that. His funeral had been short and bleak, punctuated by the sounds of Ino and Chouji’s endless crying, and Kakashi knows he will never forget the desolation on Shikamaru’s face or look of despair that clouded Kurenai’s red, beautiful red eyes that the idiot Sarutobi always waxed poems about when he drank too much.

He’s willing to bet their wedding was the opposite, beautiful and bright and filled with laughter and different tears. Their house too, soon to be brimming with the life of a beautiful, strong little girl (maybe more) that Shikamaru will gladly uncle for, who will be surrounded by their parents and their teams, people that will kill and die for her, Kurenai and Asuma’s little miracle.

The young Sarutobi whistles lowly, bringing Kakashi back to the present, “You’ve really mellowed out in your old age, eh? And you ended up taller than Obito! Wasn’t that the only thing he ever held over you?”

“That and his ability to come up with terrible reasons why he’s always late.”

Obito splutters indignantly, “Hypocrite! Who was the one late for his meeting with Ibiki? Huh? And you made me late today! Hayate won’t let me live it down!”

Kakashi stares blandly at him, ignoring the confusion on Asuma’s face and amusement on Rin’s, “I have no idea what you’re talking about. How was class, by the way? Find all of Anko’s pranks in time?”

Obito’s face turns red, “You-!”

“So,” Rin cuts in, ignoring the bemused expressions on their peers’ faces, “what are you three doing out?”

It doesn’t sound like a question.

Kurenai smiles a bit guiltily, “Would you believe me if I said I wanted to check on how Kiba’s doing?”

Rin sighs, “No, but if you must know, he’s raising hell in his hospital room even with a broken leg and enough painkillers to down a horse. It took Shizune talking to him privately to settle him down for overnight observation.”

Kurenai winces sympathetically (for Kiba, no doubt), unsurprised.

They lapse into silence, not quite comfortable but not yet awkward, because it seems even Obito and Gai are at a loss for words. Kakashi internally sighs. He is way to old for this shit.

Thankfully, someone must hear his plea for escape because in a flash of yellow, sensei is standing right beside them with a bright smile. “Oh,” he says in mild surprise as he looks to the other three jounin and accepts their polite bows of greeting, “Asuma-kun, Gai-kun, Kurenai-kun, pleasure to see you three. I hope your teams are doing well.”

“As well as they can be five days out from the village with Ino and no onsens on the way,” Asuma says dryly.

Minato laughs, the lines on his face becoming slightly more prominent, and Kakashi wonders if he will ever not be in awe of how easily his sensei dissipates the tension in any situation, not at all blind to the glowing respect he can see in the eyes of his fellow jounin. It feels so much like Naruto’s, admittedly louder, spirit he can’t help but smile softly beneath his mask.

(something squeezes in his chest like a vice because Naruto will never know what it’s like to be smiled at like that)

Minato eyes his team with goodnatured suspicion, “So what are you three up to? A spar?”

“I would be Most Honored to have a Glorious Spar of Youth with your Beloved Team, Hokage-sama!” Gai says enthusiastically, sincerity lacing every word as he gives the indulgently amused Hokage a bright thumbs up. Kakashi looks on with a dull expression as his friend points at him rather dramatically and shouts, “I, THE BEAUTIFUL GREEN BEAST OF KONOHA, CHALLENGE YOU, MY ETERNAL RIVAL, TO A SPAR!”

His dismay must be more noticeable than he thought when Obito cackles at his expense and Asuma smirks around his cigarette, cracking his knuckles. “Actually, you know what? I want a crack at him too.”

Kurenai rolls her eyes at the overly macho displays beside her. “He’s not a pinata Asuma. Although,” her eyes glint ominously, “I’d like to see his skills as well.”

Kakashi is wholly unimpressed with the lot of them.

Rin puffs up, the medic in her already picking up the discomfort that wracks Kakashi’s body from too little time recovering and too much emotional upheaval even after a full night of (nightmares) rest, and lectures, “I don’t think so! Kakashi-kun still needs rest, his chakra levels are far too lo-”

“Actually,” Kakashi interrupts, enjoying the way everyone’s eyes snap to him with mix of wariness and anticipation, “why not make this a team spar? Obito, Rin, and I against Kurenai, Asuma, and…” his voice becomes dull, pointing at Gai who is busy doing several alternating one-handed vertical push-ups as warm up with vigor, melting Rins stern exterior with a snort, “that.”

Minato coughs suspiciously into his fist, an amused smile tugging on his lips as he eyes the six of them, one looking bored and the other five looking hopeful. He sighs, wondering when he ended up raising a village of children, before an idea comes to him.

“Kushina wanted me to warn you not to be late for dinner, but I guess…” his grin is devilish when he offers, “in that case, I’ll supervise the match.”

Obito whoops loudly, “Yes! Team Minato, back together again!”

“Are you sure, Hokage-sama? We don’t want to keep you from anything important.” Asuma asks, putting out his cigarette and incinerating the butt in his hand.

Kakashi smirks, visible from beneath his mask, and sounds innocently concerned when he says placatingly, “Not worried about performance anxiety, are you Asuma? I’m sure Minato-sensei would understand if you can’t fight up to snuff in front of such an important audience.”

Another shocked silence before Obito bursts into raucous laughter, nearly doubling over where he stands, while Rin tries and fails to hide her laughter behind her hands. Kurenai looks scandalized for all of a minute before following suit, Minato’s eyes dance with mirth, and Gai returns from his second warm-up (twenty laps around the training grounds on one hand and one foot, what?) with energy to spare.

Asuma swears and colors but a grin pulls at his lips, and Kakashi doesn’t remember feeling this at ease in a while.

“Bastard, I just don’t want Hokage-sama see his student get his ass kicked too badly.”

“Whatever you say, Asuma.”

They split up and walk to opposite ends of the training grounds, anticipation stirring up the air as Minato finds a place to settle and watch the match.

Kakashi turns to see both his teammates looking at him expectantly, and with a jolt, realizes that they expect him to take the lead.

He takes it in stride and he knows they see his hesitation, but this is a chance for them to really relearn each other. He’s only ever gotten to know them through training and missions and vice versa - he learned about them through their bodies, how Rin sometimes twisted a little too far to the left to protect a broken rib that healed wrong as a child and still makes her flinch from memory, how Obito can take beating after beating with a bloody grin but couldn’t stand being tickled even a little bit. They know going for his mask is a sure way to get a broken bone whether he means to do it or not.

He’s been watching how they move, too - around the kitchen holding dishes and silverware, across the rooftops with sure feet and steady breaths - and he never fails to notice the way they gravitate towards each other, like two planets constantly circling the other in a steady, never ending cycle. His body aches because he can feel the pull too, faint and sometimes too subtle for him to resist, but he can’t indulge himself in what-ifs that will never be. He’s lost his chance, twice.

But these observations, as scarce and unreliable as they are, are enough for him to formulate a plan. After all, he doesn’t need to know how they fight because he knows everything about their opponent.

Their heads duck together to plan, and when they finally re-emerge to begin, all three smiles are predatory.


Asuma doesn’t know why he’s so nervous, it’s just a spar.

But it’s a spar with a long dead friend and widely lauded genius. In front of his wife and the Hokage.

So. There’s that.

Kurenai’s slight fingers are feather-light on his wrist before retreating, her amazing eyes glittering excitedly like jewels in the sunlight. Christ, no wonder Genma keeps ragging on him about being a sap with those kinds of thoughts, but he can’t help that it’s true.

“Think he’s going to use his Sharingan?” Kurenai asks, eyeing their opponents calculatingly.

Neither of them bring up the story of a dead boy lost to the earth.

Asuma shrugs, still a little weirded out at the thought of looking at his once-classmate with one red and one grey eye. But he is curious to see how well Kakashi handles a doujutsu that, by all accounts, should have left him half crazy from the massive information input and lack of bloodline to properly control it. “Dunno, unless you think he’s gonna be able to take Gai with half his depth perception.” Because there’s no doubt who Gai is going after right out of the gate.

The Genjutsu Mistress purses her lips and Asuma gets a little distracted. “Normally I would say no. I mean, it’s Gai. But, this is Kakashi we’re talking about. Remember when he won the junior shinobi contest before even entering the academy with a jutsu that we weren't taught until we were chunin?”

“No.” Asuma stares at her, a little dumbfounded. “You do?”

Kurenai pinks, “Shut up, I was there okay? Hard to forget the kid younger than you who got mud in your hair.”

He snorts, “Yeah, well, we’ll see in a bit, won’t we? Gonna take Rin while I take Obito then?”

Kurenai rolls her eyes even as her lips pull into a small smirk, “You’re just scared of her senbon.” Damn right he’s scared of her senbon. “Fine. Worst case scenario, Gai is busy with Kakashi for a bit while we figure out how to get passed another Sharingan user and the second best healer in all of Konoha until he’s done.”

Asuma watches as she absentmindedly flicks her wrist, magnificent flowers - illusionary - blooming at her will, before they wilt and disappear just as quickly. A warm up.

He chuckles, “Don’t let Shizune hear you say that. Besides, just cause Obito can see through illusions, doesn’t mean he’s any good at dispelling them. We’ll do fine.” He doesn’t like to boast, but he’s fairly confident he can hold his own against Obito the Kenjutsu Master - at least, with his trench knives imbued with wind chakra they’re usually fairly even. And Kurenai always downplays her talent in Genjutsu when even Uchiha with activated Sharingan who specialize in it are terrified of her skill. “Just keep the pressure on Rin and he’ll be too distracted to fire off any Katon jutsu.”

“And maybe if I’m nice, I’ll let you beat Obito before I do.” Kurenai winks, walking off to let Gai know the plan.

Damn he loves that woman.


“Give me a few minutes, I’ll join in when the time is right.”

Strong. Strong and capable.

That’s Kakashi’s first thought as he observes his teammates practiced, easy movements, nearly thoughtless if not for their twitching fingers and quick looks. Rin is adept at using poisoned senbon it seems, her accuracy even more deadly than he remembers, and stays mid range while Obito charges the front lines. His skill with the tanto is unlike anything Kakashi has seen in years, not since a disastrous mission in the Land of Iron where he was almost cut in half by a man who was just as dangerous with his katana, and pride swells in his chest to see his father’s weapon gleaming fiercely in the sunlight.

Kakashi can see where he would slip in seamlessly, a long ranged ninjutsu master proficient at hand to hand and mid range combat.

Something tightens in his chest at the thought of them keeping his position despite the Kakashi of this world never living long enough to fill it, but he shakes off the ridiculous notion and calculates their opponent's next dozen moves before striking.

Gai, for all his boisterous laughter and ridiculous challenges, has a mind as sharp as his skill and is no pushover, matching Kakashi in battle despite using almost nothing but physical attacks, and Kakashi can see Obito beginning to tire under the barrage of taijutsu attacks and Asuma’s close range trench knife even with the Sharingan activated and firing off as many Katon jutsus as he could with one hand. Rin does well enough against Kurenai’s deadly genjutsu with Obito calling out warnings, red eyes bright and gleaming, and assists as much as she can by curving the worst of Asuma and Gai’s combos with her poisoned senbon that manage to slow them with a few good hits, but with Gai’s speed, it would be easy for him to let Asuma take Obito head on for a few moments and overwhelm Rin. Right now, they are outmatched.

Kakashi has never believed in waiting for the perfect moment. He makes them.

The shock is palpable when he reveals a spinning red eye and dispels several layers of the multi-layered genjutsu Kurenai has been weaving the whole time, when he knocks one of Asuma’s trench knives out of his hands and tosses him into Obito’s tender loving care, when he takes on Gai in his own specialty, all in a matter of heartbeats.

He can’t see his teammates grins, but he’s sure they are wide and bloodthirsty.

The battle goes on, even on both sides now that his advantage of surprise is gone, but he can feel it in his bones that it is close to over. There are very few who can match Gai in speed, stamina, and skill - the Yondaime, Jiraiya, and maybe Itachi to name a few - but Kakashi has been fighting Gai for as long as he can remember. Fighting this Gai is just like being home, feels like home, and it’s just one of few things in this world that puts him at ease with its familiarity, the duck-dodge-weave-counter of fighting the man that has stayed so faithfully and stubbornly by his side for so many years.

Gai grins, bright and victorious, and Kakashi nearly does the same because he knows what’s coming.

They separate for a heartbeat before clashing again in a fury, and Kakashi is happy to find Gai’s speed has not diminished with this Kakashi’s death, has found the will to move on and become great even without an eternal rival to constantly measure up to. But Kakashi knows his style inside and out, can copy each movement flawlessly even without the Sharingan, and despite exhaustion pulling at his muscles and the fractures he can feel lining his bones, it isn’t long before he’s able to find an opening.

After all, while there are plenty of Uchiha alive in this world, Gai has no reason to develop a fighting style against them specifically.

Hand seals flash too quickly for anyone who happens to be watching to comprehend while senbon fly through the air and fire roars in the sky, and in the next moment, Gai is trapped underground with only his head just above it, spitting out grass and struggling against the many hard slabs of rock Kakashi has reinforced around him with lightning while Kakashi is holding a kunai at his throat.

At the same time, Rin and Obito switch places in one flawless movement, and it ends with Rin disabling Asuma’s limbs with quick, precise jabs at his pressure points while Obito’s eyes cut through Kurenai’s genjutsu and holds his tanto at her belly.

The match is abruptly over and Minato steps into the center of the silent field, arm raised.

The Yondaime’s smile is as bright as the sun.

“Winner: Team Minato!”


Chapter Text

“Oi, ‘kashi, what’re you doin’ up? ‘S early,” Obito slurs tiredly, rubbing his eye and yawning.

Kakashi blinks up from the scroll he’d been studying.

Idiot, you should be resting, he thinks.

If it sounds almost fond in his head, he doesn’t want to imagine what it would’ve sounded like had he said it out loud.

Fond or no, it doesn’t make the thought any less true.

The Uchiha had just returned from a three-day A-rank that required more stamina than finesse, a perfect fit for the master swordsman, and had been sleeping off his fatigue from nearly an entire day of hard sprinting since getting back to the apartment three hours ago. Kakashi had been the one to dress his wounds since they were fairly superficial and Rin was more than likely sleeping, and he knew the Uchiha would be sore in the morning without proper sleep.

He quietly snorts to himself when he realizes he’s starting to sound like Sakura.

“Just some light reading,” Kakashi murmurs, the pull of sleep tempting him as well, but guilt swims in his gut at the thought of dreaming when he should be figuring out a way home.

He can’t tell Obito that, though. He can’t tell anyone.

Obito somehow manages to squint skeptically at him even with his eyes closed. “You sure? Not another nightmare?”

Kakashi smiles softly beneath his mask, “Aa, not tonight.”

Obito just nods slowly, eyes closed as he wanders to the kitchen for a glass of water.

Too trusting.

Kakashi turns his eyes back to the second piece of parchment he’s been taking notes on, half encrypted with a mix of his own personal shorthand and bits and pieces he’d learned in ANBU with the other half an amalgamation of half-formed words, all written in his messy scrawl.

...the multiverse or meta-universe is the hypothetical set of finite and infinite possible universes...comprises of everything that exists: the entirety of space, time, matter, energy, and the physical laws and constants that describe them. Some believe all these possible worlds exist at the same time and are as real as this world...

He knows some of the theories already, on alternate universes.

He’d done a lot of research for Minato even without being asked when his teacher had first begun learning the Hiraishin, and he’d noticed space-time manipulation seemed to have a lot of ties to parallel worlds but he’d never really thought of it beyond pure theory. After all, what use did he have with different universes when the ability to travel to them was impossible outside of fairy tales and made up abilities whispered between children?

(that was before; the fact that his borrowed eye can transport things to a different dimension has not escaped his notice)

And of course he’s also heard of the Butterfly Effect, but he knew dwelling on what-if’s would drag him into a pit he wouldn’t be able to escape from so he never let himself imagine a reality different from his own.

Now, though, he has to see it played out before him.

It hurts, of course it does, because this world confirms what he’s always suspected - that he should be dead.

But despite all his loved ones still breathing and living, his death doesn’t explain why the Uchiha are still roaming the earth or why there is no overhanging dread of war in the village. He’s intercepted a few of Jiraiya’s spy birds - at the expense of a few new scratches and dirty looks from his ninken - and found that only four of the nine tailed beasts have been captured. By the time Naruto had returned from his trip with Jiraiya, six of the nine tailed beasts had been obtained, not including Gaara who’d been kidnapped mere weeks later, and the Akatsuki had been brought out from the shadows as a threat to the Five Nations and not just a highly secretive mercenary group.

There are too many questions and not enough answers.

Obito shuffles out of the kitchen back towards his bedroom with a wave and Kakashi can’t help the exasperated affection he feels wash over him for a moment, chasing away the building frustration.

With another tired glance at his notes, he sighs and carefully rolls up the two scrolls he’d swiped from the forbidden section of the archives, knowing he only has until dawn before he needs to return them in fear of Kushina getting to her shift and realizing someone has tampered with her seals responsible for cataloging the library - seals that had taken him nearly the entire time since he’d woken up here the first time to decipher, let alone modify without alerting her at first contact. It doesn’t help that she has some nasty traps set up that he’s had to disable and learn to re-engage, even guarding unrestricted books.

Kakashi knows because seven clones went out in a puff of smoke and pain that way.

Even with all that he’s gathered so far and finding a few puzzling pieces clicking into place, he needs more information, which means he needs to approach Minato soon.

There’s only so much he can do with limited access to anything when at one time he had unlimited access to everything , and he knows his teacher has some idea of what happened to him, as well as probably Jiraiya who’s been strangely absent. He knows why he’s so slow to figure out a way home though, because the thought of ending this living dream makes his blood turn to ice.

But the alternative... Kakashi thinks, watching the notes he memorized burn to nothing in his hand, is much worse.

Because the longer he stays here, the longer he’s unable to help his students and or protect his village from an insurmountable foe, and that thought fills his mouth with ash.

 


 

Minato’s hand twitches when Kakashi appears from a dark corner of the office, footsteps now audible and lazy gaze stuck on whatever book he’s swiped from Kushina’s shelves this time, and the blond has to silently sign his ANBU to back down from their offensive positions. They never appear from where they are hidden, but their chakra buzzes faintly before becoming an indistinct hum once more.

Minato hides a smirk - his guards hadn’t been this unsettled in years - and says dryly, “Nice of you to drop by Kakashi. Only a half hour late this time.”

Kakashi snaps the book closed and eye smiles, “Anything for my favorite sensei.”

Where many shinobi would salute or straighten up to attention despite Minato’s relaxed rule, Kakashi slouches where he stands, and Minato almost worries his student would become a puddle if he became any more boneless. A guard to his far left bristles at the lack of deference to the Hokage, undetectable to most, and Minato has to bite back another laugh as Kakashi surreptitiously flashes them an unflattering sign.

“I’d be flattered if you had more than one sensei,” Minato deadpans, “but now that you’re here, we can get started.”

He flicks his eyes towards the door, a silent command.

Root doesn’t hesitate, so used to obedience, while his ANBU hesitate for half a second before following, loyal and wary. He flares his chakra and seals light up around the room, the blue light almost eye-wateringly bright, before the room is back to being bathed in just sunlight.

Kakashi studies the still faintly glowing brushwork appreciatively. “Should I be worried?”

“Depends,” Minato grins, “on how much you hate being a teacher.”

Kakashi’s visible eye widens the slightest bit before blandly stating, “If you make me work at the academy, those brats won’t last an hour.”

Minato laughs because he knows it’s true. “No, no, I’d never do that - to them or you. And I know you already have a genin team of your own.” The words are harder to say than he expects and Kakashi shoves his hands in his pockets - this is the first time anyone in Team Minato has really mentioned Kakashi’s true origins directly. “But I was thinking something a little more covert.”

Kakashi’s shoulders lower a fraction of an inch. “What did you have in mind?”

“I would like you to train new recruits. ANBU, specifically.”

Kakashi doesn’t bat an eye, as unflappable as ever, but he is still Minato’s student and the blonde can see that grey gaze sharpening, brilliant mind no doubt already thinking of a dozen reasons why Minato would ask him such a thing while simultaneously planning the most effective and gruesome training exercises for his new bunch of rookies.

“Need a little help with the weeding?” he asks casually, and Minato’s mind races with the implications.

He nods. “You could say that.”

He watches his student closely, almost missing the flash of hesitation that crosses his masked features.

The Kakashi Minato knew was never comfortable with the leaps of faith he used to take, decisions that seemed irrational with so little evidence (passing Team 7 when it was clear they had no teamwork to speak of; believing in a disgrace, a failure, and a no-name clan girl). One short spar predominantly fought with taijutsu hardly counts as enough information to make such request.

This Kakashi merely tilts his head to the side in idle curiosity. “And you think I’m the man for the job?”

“I know you are,” Minato says earnestly.

The Jounin rocks back on his heels and looks at him with an unreadable expression before revealing, “I was recruited into Root for a short time."

Minato’s breathing stops for a split second, blue eyes a little wider than before.

Kakashi doesn’t give anything away, in expression or body language, but something about him feels repentant. “It was after you died and Sarutobi-sama retook the title. I wasn’t...in a good place. I know it’s no excuse, but I was vulnerable to Danzo’s machinations and it wasn’t until I was ordered to assassinate the Sandaime that I realized what Danzo really is.” His gaze, which had drifted to the view of the village in the brilliant sunlight, snaps back to Minato. “Do you still think I’m your best option?”

Do you still trust me?

Minato doesn’t have to think on it too much because he already knew this was a possibility.

Kakashi had never said outright, but he spoke of Danzo with such silky venom that Minato could tentatively piece together a picture of their true relationship. It makes his knuckles ache with how badly he wants to find the old Councilmen and remind him just who he’s dealing with.

Instead, he asks, “Were you loyal to Sarutobi Hiruzen?”

Kakashi’s answer is immediate and heartfelt, “To the very end.”

“Would you die to protect this village and her people?”

“In a heartbeat.”

“Then I do think you’re right for the job,” Minato says confidently. At Kakashi’s surprised look, he explains, “You said it yourself, Kakashi. You’ve experienced how...persuasive Danzo can be, how he really how he thinks and what his methods are, you’ve seen how Root operates. Over a decade in ANBU also means you can distinguish between his men and ours, and you have the skills to properly prepare them.”

The Yondaime stands from his seat and walks around his desk, stopping in front of the silver-haired Jounin with an earnest expression. “I need to know who I can trust and who is in danger,” hands come up to rest on Kakashi's tense shoulders, and he puts every ounce of sincerity and truth he can into his words, “I trust you , Kakashi. I trust your judgment, and I trust that you only want what’s best for the village. Root may have had a purpose, once upon a time, but now…”

He doesn’t need to say they’re choking the life out of his village with their presence, that Danzo’s steadily growing power brings more uneasiness than comfort.  That he knows of Danzo’s schemes beyond their borders even if he can’t prove let alone stop any of them, not without help.

Kakashi must see even a little of the desperation Minato tries to hide, a gloved hand coming up to rest on one of his forearms reassuringly. “I understand, Minato-sensei.”

He steps back, out of reach, and kneels with a first over his heart.

Minato knows better than to stop him.

So he stands, back straight, listening with a sombre heart as his first student and one of the most broken, loyal shinobi he knows pledges his life to the will of the Hokage once more, and lets the solemn words ring down to his very bones as the feeling of lightning crackles across his skin.

“I, Hatake Kakashi, do so solemnly swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to the Hokage and all his successors. That I will be loyal and defend him to the utmost of my power against all conspiracies and attempts which shall be made against his person, title or dignity. I surrender my autonomy and my life to him for I have no heart but the heart Konohagakure. I have no will but the will of my Hokage.”

 


 

They won’t leave him alone

“Yo, Kakashi! Where ya headed?”

Kakashi resists a groan and calculates his chances of escaping three Jounin.

With this bunch, not very high.

It seems now that they've seen him and talked to him, sparred with him and his team little less than a week ago, they won’t let him be.

He can understand wanting a rematch - their fight less than five days ago had been fairly one-sided with Asuma and Kurenai healing from substantial wounds acquired in a mission a few days before, and he knows that Doujutsu will only work once on Gai - but he doesn’t really understand why they’ve been accosting him at every turn whether or not he’s around Obito or Rin. They only steer clear when he’s hanging around Obito’s apartment because of all the traps he’s added and upgraded to keep them out , but it seems no matter where he is, he’s never alone for more than an hour.

At the Memorial Stone, browsing a bookstore, standing on the Hokage Monument (they never ask him why he stands on a stone head that doesn’t exist, and he doesn’t tell them the best view of the sunset is on Tsunade’s nose). Nowhere is safe.

It definitely puts a damper on his information gathering because, just his luck, he’s constantly surrounded by the elite of the elite of the village and still under surveillance by Root and two ANBU guards, Minato’s extremely reluctant acquiescence to the Council. That doesn’t mean he’s unsuccessful, of course, but he’s been able to do far less than anticipated - like possibly sneak into one of Orochimaru’s abandoned labs to see what kind of research the snake has been up to, or break into Danzo’s office and maybe find Tenzo and Sai.

Just the thought of the treacherous old crow keeping his talons in either of them for so long makes his jaw clench tightly, chest alight with a cold fire.

But because he has to stay relatively on the good side of the Council and keep his status as ‘supervised’ and not changed to ‘threat’, he’s not allowed to run from his guards sights like he so badly wants to and slip into the shadows where very, very few can find him. His highly suspicious mind tells him it’s a ploy that his former childhood friends would be so determined to befriend him, but the rest of him who has fought beside them for years and years knows they are just too nosy for their own good and genuinely, for some reason, want to be around him.

He idly wonders if they’ve suffered some brain damage since his death because he doesn’t recall ever being this popular before retiring from ANBU.

(When he’d mentioned this to Rin, she had laughed.

“What did you expect?” She’d asked. “Of course they want to be around you. You’re the reason we all train so hard, you know.”

No, he hadn’t known.

Rin’s smile had been wistful and sad when she’d said, “All of us were determined to get stronger after what happened to our team. You were like the goal to reach in order to become one of the best. If the golden boy of our generation didn’t make it through the war, what chance did the rest of us have to survive without working ourselves to the bone?”

That was understandable, and he’d vaguely recalled their attempts at being his friend after Obito then Rin then Minato died, but here? Where he’d been dead longer than he’d ever been alive? What was the point if he might not even stick around long enough for those friendships to fully form?

“Seeing you now,” she’d continued, “is like starting again where we left off. They want to test themselves against you but also learn from you, be your friend again like before.”

Like the Kannabi Bridge mission never happened, had gone unsaid.

He hadn’t said anything in return, mind working overtime to figure out another motive because that doesn’t make sense, he doesn’t understand.

She’d looked at him then, puzzlingly sad, with an echo of Kushina’s voice in her words when she’d said with a note of exasperation and fondness, “You really have no idea how much influence you have, do you?”

They hadn’t said anything more, after that, content to walk beside each other like they hadn’t done in eighteen years.)

Kurenai and Gai are the worst offenders since they’re not allowed to spar with him again until the proficiency matches in three days time - also because of Kurenai’s highly curious and intellectual nature and Gai because...well, he’s Gai . Asuma is a little more sedate in his offers to go to lunch or have a light spar or just sit quietly in a tea house while Kakashi reads one of the mystery novels swiped from Kushina’s bookshelf, but he’s still a constant presence as well.

He’s also noticed some of the more forward - ridiculous - Jounin poking around when they think he doesn’t notice, like Anko who likes to stare with a wide grin when he passing by her favorite dango shop, twirling an empty stick threateningly, or Hayate who’s taken to watching Kakashi’s spars with Asuma with a critical eye despite probably needing a nap to get over his most recent cold.

He hasn’t seen much of the Clan Heads because of his avoidance of anywhere crowded, but that’s probably a good thing since it means he hasn’t had to lay eyes on Uchiha Fugaku - or his family - since arriving.

However, the lack of time alone is - in a word - grating.

And this time, it’s all three of them tailing him as he slips seamlessly through the less crowded streets of Konoha so there’s practically zero chance of escape.

“Don’t you have students to be teaching?”

“-bad omen-”

Asuma grins around his cigarette, but there’s a little pride and a little wistfulness when he says, “Aw, don’t be like that. ‘Sides, they’re all grown up now, always complaining that they're adults and can handle missions without a chaperone. Makes us sensei's feel unwanted.”

Kakashi is fairly sure that’s just Ino.

“... the beginning. Just wait, in a week's time, half the forces will decimated…”

“You’d understand if you had students of your own,” Kurenai smiles, goodnatured and unaware.

“Kakashi would be a Most Inspiring Teacher! And our Wonderful Students could have Youthful Spars!” Gai declares.

Kakashi is a little touched by his friends words even when Asuma mutters “more like make perfect little Kakashi drones” under his breath. Kurenai just looks speculative at the idea.

They don’t know it but technically, he’s had dozens.

Rookies and new team members in ANBU and Root - including Tenzo and Itachi and Yuugao - then the three teams of genin he failed before passing Team 7. And, he thinks with a touch of nostalgia, he was a sort of pseudo-sensei to Kurenai’s team when she was forced to retire due to her pregnancy, became another role model for Team Gai to follow, and protected Asuma’s students with his life more than once.

He was their sensei just as much as they were Naruto, Sai, and Sakura’s sensei’s, in the way the saying goes - it takes a village to raise a child like it takes a dozen Jounin to teach one team of genin.

Kakashi says none of this and just hums noncommittally while Gai breaks out into a loud monologue about his own team, proud tears streaming down his face.

“-s totally going to snap…”

“Neji has become a Truly Remarkable Jounin! He is leading his Third Team Mission outside of the village in two weeks time!” Gai says, and it’s not hard to see passed the ridiculous, over the top pride and hear how truly happy for his student he is.

Asuma shakes his head. “Damn, they grow up fast, don’t they.”

Kakashi sighs in resignation as they practically mandhandle him into a small snack shop where they proceed to order anything fried or sweet on the menu - his two most hated types of foods. By Asuma’s smug little grin, the assholes know it too.

They chatter about their teams, occasionally getting a sentence from Kakashi, but his attention is elsewhere.

“-ompletely unnatural…-supposed to be dead and stay that way-”

“-going to bring more trouble than he’s worth-”

He glances towards the small flower stand across the street where three Chunin are currently gossiping.

He knows who they’re talking about because they keep, conspicuously, looking over at them and despite his friends best attempts at distracting him, they can obviously hear almost every word as well.

“-on’t get near him-...-know what they say…”

Kakashi’s had enough.

There’s only so much recon he can do and rumors he can sort as fact or fiction himself before he slowly starts to lose his mind, and he has too many important things to keep track of for this to become a serious distraction. This isn’t the first, nor will it be the last, time he’s heard those words tossed around and something about them doesn’t ring quite right.

He snatches the basket of fries the other three are sharing, getting their abrupt attention. He directs the question to all of them, but his attention is only on one.

“Why are they staring at me like I’m the Shinigami-sama himself? And it’s not because I’m supposed to be dead, that’s old news.”

Asuma is a seasoned jounin and the son of a Kage, and Gai’s ridiculous training has given him complete control over every muscle in his body. They don’t react, not in the obvious way he’s looking for. Despite a few years under her belt, Kurenai is the least experienced and therefore the easiest to read - the twitch in her fingers and the flickering across her unique red eyes is enough of a give away, and she knows it.

She sighs a bit guiltily, glaring at a few of the oblivious Chunin who continue to gossip despite the attention of four Jounin. “It’s just a superstition.”

Kakashi raises an eyebrow expectantly.

Asuma clears his throat and says with a shrug, “People nowadays tend to think geniuses are cursed. Hang around one long enough and they’ll either die or go mad well before their time, maybe drag some people down with them.”

He grunts when Kurenai elbows him sharply in the ribs but he doesn’t take back the words and just reaches for another fry.

Huh.

There may be some truth to that, Kakashi thinks wryly.

Kurenai lowers her voice, “It’s because all the prodigies in the last few generations haven’t exactly survived passed their twenties. After you-” she winces, but soldiers on, ”after you died in that mission, it seems every genius promoted after you is doomed to a similar fate.

“Uchiha Shisui was considered the strongest Uchiha of his time but he disappeared at the height of his fame, a few years after the Kannabi Bridge mission. Fugaku-sama’s oldest son, Itachi-san, was thought to be even more prodigious than you ,” Kakashi almost smiles at the incredulity in her tone, “and now he’s become a prematurely retired gardener who hardly even speaks to his family. Nothing’s happened to Shikamaru-kun or Neji-kun, thankfully, but Itachi’s younger brother, Sasuke-”

Kurenai cuts herself off, looking solemn, lips pressed into a thin line.

Something cold grips Kakashi’s heart but he doesn’t let it show. “Younger brother a genius too?”

The slash of Asuma’s mouth is grim, “Was. Kid graduated two years early, rookie of the year. Not quite as quick as you or Itachi, but still pretty damn impressive with the new regulations in place.”

He shakes his head and Kakashi can almost hear what a shame .

“First mission outside the village and the entire team is slaughtered by a missing nin. Shisui was already an older brother figure to Itachi - I’m pretty sure losing his younger brother is what pushed him over the edge. Ran a long string of suicidal S-ranks before just quitting altogether and cutting ties with his family.”

Gai, uncharacteristically grim and quiet up to this point, frowns sadly with a touch of old loss, the kind that isn’t personal but still felt deeply. “Itachi-kun’s Youth has been Dampened by the Tragic Loss of his Most Precious Younger Brother.”

Kurenai nods and continues solemnly, “Shisui’s death put a huge strain on the Uchiha. On top of their constant spats with the Hyuuga Clan and distrust in the Council-” Asuma shoots her a warning look this time that she ignores, “now both of Fugaku-sama’s sons are unable or unwilling to take up the title. Obito’s practically the next Head of the Clan even though he’s a branch member.”

“And as much as the they would love an Uchiha as Minato’s successor, it’s unlikely he’ll be able to become Hokage if he’s slated to be the next Clan Head,” Kakashi finishes woodenly, mouth on autopilot.

“They call it the ‘Fall of the Gifted’,” someone butts in.

However, Kakashi doesn’t really pay attention to the words, hasn’t really hear anything beyond slaughtered .

White noise fills his ears, and on instinct, he identifies the speaker as Shiranui Genma, tokubetsu jounin, ex-ANBU, extremely capable all ninja art forms, part of the Hokage’s personal guard and able to use the Hiraishin in tandem with his two fellow guards Raidou and Tatami. Something in him recognizes Genma is not a threat but it still takes a moment for Kakashi to lock down on the horrible, uncontrollable thought of I can kill him in thirty seconds and bring himself back to the present where the other three are watching him with concern and, even more so, wariness.

The white noise fades and he hides away the ugliness festering inside him that a few simple words are able to unleash.

It takes a moment but he manages to sound normal, even to his own ears, when he remarks offhandedly, “Not very creative with the names, are they?”

Kakashi doesn’t miss Genma’s sharp-eyed stare or the way he deliberately keeps his senbon on the left side of his mouth - the side closest to Kakashi. “You could say that.”

Typical Genma , Kakashi mentally sighs.

One part of him is relieved that someone is still wary around him when it seems the rest of the village is happy to have another genius among the ranks, and the rest of him already trying to figure out how to get on Genma’s good side quickly - or at least avoid getting on his bad side.

Even though they differ in their personal lives - where Kakashi is (used to be) distant and unwelcoming, Genma has always been able to draw people in with his laidback nature and sometimes inappropriate humor - they are a lot alike in the ways that matter. Composed, calm, and as shrewd as they come. Those traits are why they made such a great team in ANBU.

Here, though, where he and Genma’s camaraderie forged in blood and shadows is absent, where Genma doesn’t know of Kakashi’s trust in him to protect Minato-sensei as part of his personal guard, Kakashi now knows what it’s like to be under that eagle-like gaze.

It’s not pleasant and dampens the acidic taste of panic in the back of his throat with bitterness.

Genma shrugs with false nonchalance. “I would’ve called it something a little catchier. ‘Curse of the Uchiha’ would be pretty accurate since all this crap seems to happen around that family, starting with Obito.”

“Genma!” Kurenai chides, eerie red eyes finally off of Kakashi.

Genma grins unabashedly at Kurenai’s ire and Gai’s disapproving frown, but Kakashi ignores the rest of their conversation, mind spinning with the information already given.

If Sasuke is dead - he needs to get himself under control if that simple thought is enough to knock the wind from him - then Kakashi has to start digging deeper into his former student’s blackened files, like he should’ve been doing all along. Kakashi is sure that that part is a secret from the rest of the village otherwise the Uchiha would not live idly as their heir’s records are wiped from history.

A chilling thought occurs to him. Does Obito know?

There are very few places he can get answers, and something in him twists at the thought of not being able to completely trust his sensei or his teammates.

As he listens with half an ear as his fellow jounin bicker about where to go for lunch, he plans.

 


 

Minato’s still watching the place his student had just disappeared from with a heavy heart when his own sensei decides to appear.

“Why the long face, kid? Not happy to see me?” Jiraiya teases.

Minato huffs a laugh, shaking off the remnants of solemnity from earlier even as Kakashi’s oath still lingers in his mind. “Why would you ever think that?”

“Hmph. So how’s the brat doing?”

Minato rolls his eyes at his mentor and says with an exasperated smile, “He’s not exactly a brat anymore, sensei.” He’s thirty. Shodai’s balls, all his students are adults and doesn’t that thought make him feel old? “And he’s doing well, considering the circumstances.”

Jiraiya makes an inquisitive noise as he takes a seat like he owns the office. “Circumstances. Like him being dead? Or Obito being alive?” His gaze sharpens, “Or something else?”

The problem with dealing with the Sannin, Minato mentally groans, is that for all their strange quirks and ability to seem mostly harmless, they are the shrewdest and most unforgiving shinobi he’s ever dealt with.

Minato rubs his face tiredly. “All three but mainly Obito.”

“Survivor's guilt,” Jiraiya surmises.

He’s not wrong, but it barely scratches the surface of what Minato knows knows as the whole story.

Just the thought of what his first student has gone through is enough to make him want to drag the young Jounin back to his home where he and Kushina could dote on him despite Kakashi’s aversion to that kind of affection. Hell, that’s what they’ve been doing and yet nothing they do or say seems to be able to completely wipe away the haunted look that sometimes comes over his student's face.

“Any news on Danzo? Or the Akatsuki?” Minato asks, and he knows it’s not his smoothest transition but he doesn’t want to inadvertently reveal anything his student wants to keep private.

Besides, after hearing Kakashi’s story, he wants to put down any threat that lurks in Konoha as soon (and as viciously) as possible.

Jiraiya notices of course but doesn’t press. “Same as usual, for the most part. None of my contacts have noticed anything different about that old goat’s routine - which is boring as all hell - so either he’s good at covering his tracks or he’s preparing for something far in the future.” They both know the latter is far more likely. “How many more Root have been integrated into ANBU?”

The Yondaime tries not to let his weariness show but it’s a fruitless attempt. “Half a dozen. This month.”

Jiraiya grimaces and Minato wants to do the same.

“And coincidentally, those loyal to me are being killed off on missions at an alarming rate.” He resists the urge to lay his head down on his desk. “I only have a handful I can truly trust anymore.”

“Any solutions?”

Minato purses his lips, “I have a few ideas. I’ll let you know how they work out.”

The Sannin grunts. “Well, at least Danzo didn’t antagonize Fugaku during that meeting last week.”

Because he was too busy staring at Kakashi like one of his potential recruits , Minato thinks acidically.

That one-eyed snake would have to go through Minato’s dead body before getting to his student.

None of this is new, unfortunately.

Shimura Danzo has been a problem for years, a real threat for going on a decade when Root truly started becoming a problem, but one Minato has had trouble solving. Danzo’s political power is only second to his military might, and only Minato’s inner circle of trustworthy shinobi know just how dire the situation is becoming. Constantly undermining the Uchiha is just one of his methods of gaining leverage with other Clans - namely the Hyuuga - and causing general civil unrest through the Military Police Force.

Minato knows he’s the direct cause because of his refusal to even entertain any of Danzo’s horrifying whims, something the Sandaime - his soul rest in peace - used to do to placate his former teammate.

“There’s not much we can do about him for now, Minato,” Jiraiya says placidly. “As for the Akatsuki, the info you passed on to me all panned out.”

Minato maintains an innocent facade in the face of his teachers narrow-eyed stare.

“Turns out the leaders of Amegakure - identities still unknown- are definitely involved with Akatsuki. I haven’t been able to get in and confirm for myself but my informant in Kusa’s been keeping a close eye on who goes in and out.” Minato opens his mouth to protest before Jiraiya raises a hand, “I know I know, don’t go to Ame because of the rain, yada yada yada. I’m not an idiot, kid. And I’m being even more cautious than usual because someone is being a worrywort.”

Minato pouts at Jiraiya’s amused tone. “Excuse me if I want to keep my and my son’s teacher from kicking the bucket too soon.”

“Yeah, well, you’re still a hundred years too young to worry about me, squirt.” Jiraiya stretches and rises to his feet. “Anyway, that’s pretty much all I could get from such a short trip out of the village. Naruto should be back soon. He’s been workin real hard on completing the Rasengan and I know he’s gonna get it soon.” Jiraiya shakes his head. “I swear, that kid is gonna surpass both of us at this rate.”

“That’s amazing!” Minato grins proudly as his teacher moves to the door. “You and Tsunade-hime are coming to dinner later, right? We have a surprise guest joining us.”

Jiraiya flaps a hand at him, “Yeah, yeah, wouldn’t wanna get that hot-blooded wife of yours worked up.”

Before he opens the door to leave, Jiraiya looks back at him and the blond straightens in his seat at the severity in his teacher's face.

“Can we trust him?” Jiraiya asks.

Minato knows who he’s talking about, knows not to take offense even as he bristles the slightest bit reactively.

“I read Ibiki’s evaluation right after their session. Traumatized doesn’t even begin to cover it, Minato, and I know there’re a hell of a lot of things you aren’t telling me about the boy. Do you think he’s stable enough to be brought into this?”

Jiraiya didn’t get to where he is now by being a thoughtless fool.

Minato presses his lips in a thin line. He’s thought about this since they first found Kakashi, and after spending time with him, getting to know him all over again, hearing the sobering promise made in this very office not even an hour ago, he knows without a shadow of a doubt what his answer is.

“I trust him with my life.”

Jiraiya watches him for a long, scrutinizing movement before breaking out into a grin and disappearing.

 


 

Kakashi has thought this before and reiterates it to himself now, but his teammates have uncanny timing.

“Oi Bakashi! C’mon, we’re gonna be late for dinner!”

Kakashi has never been so relieved to hear that loud voice.

Anko pouts beside him. “Aww, I just got here! Obito, can’t you leave your boyfriend with us for the night? I know, bring him to poker night!”

Obito makes a face at her as he and Rin reach their table where Kakashi is unfortunately surrounded by twice the number of shinobi than earlier with Asuma, Kurenai, Genma, and Ebisu to his left and Gai, Raidou, and Anko to his right. A few chunin, Kotetsu and Izumo, had stopped by earlier under the guise of speaking to Ebisu about a mission detail when in reality they wanted a chance to goggle at him up close.

They’ve mostly been pestering him about his skills and if he thinks he’s going to win his exhibition matches in the coming days - which is ridiculous because first, the matches will be called to a halt when the Hokage is satisfied, second, why would he say anything about his abilities in front of the very people he’s going to fight (even though he has an advantage over them but details, details), and third, of course he’s going to win all of them.

He very carefully doesn’t look at Anko’s bear neck when she asks about the craziest thing she’s done in his world.

Rin shrugs, but there's a devious tilt to the medics lips. “I guess, unless you want to be the one to tell the Red Hot Habanero that.”

The redheads fierce reputation still serves her well.

Anko slump with a pout with no further objections.

Kakashi smoothly extracts himself from the table, hardly jostling a single glass as he stands beside his teammates and leaves more than enough money to pay for the booze he didn’t drink and a nice tip for the poor bartender. The sooner they leave, the better. It makes him itch, being around so many people for so long.

“Well, I can’t say this has been fun. Stop following me.”

It’s obvious the others don’t really know how to take that until Asuma grins, “No can do.”

Kurenai smirks, arms crossed. “You’ll have to do better than that if you want to get rid of us that badly.”

“Kakashi, your Humor is Truly Youthful!” Gai laughs boisterously, reaching for a glass and not noticing Genma quickly switch it with water.

Kakashi sighs, intentionally sounding put out and garnering a few chuckles from some of the others who have slowly started to relax in his presence. “Then I’ll have think of something good, won’t I?” He sends a lazy wave their way as he, Obito, and Rin leave the establishment.

“Bunch of alcoholics.” Obito mutters under his breath.

They’re only halfway to sensei’s house when he catches Rin’s third sideways glance.

He looks at her questioningly. “What is it?”

She eeps and about-faces, but it’s already obvious to him and Obito that something has been on her mind since leaving, since the match really. Her shoulders slump, sullen at being caught, but it would be a cold day in hell before Kakashi didn’t feel people sneaking a peek at his face.

“I’m just surprised, I guess. I didn’t think you’d ever get along with our old classmates like that. Were you close in yo-um, before?”

Kakashi doesn’t miss her hesitation but he also doesn’t comment.

He knows who she’s talking about and he doesn’t say that those three are the reason for his sanity, that they care enough about him and his health even after his superior attitude as a child and cold one as a teenager to go directly to the Hokage and demand that he be taken out of ANBU because it was destroying him.

Asuma was like the annoying, slightly older cousin he never wanted, always so relaxed and uncaring when Kakashi’s temper sometimes snapped. Kurenai, the most skittish of the three at first, matched him wit for wit and never lets him get away with his usual bullshit. And Gai...Gai had been a lifeline he hadn’t know he needed, the only one he regularly kept in contact with even when he tried so hard to cut everyone and everything but his duty out of his life. Gai’s stubbornness beats his by miles, and he’s never been more grateful for that.

They were the first ones to really give a damn about him since sensei died and the first ones to welcome him in their inner circle.

How can he explain that?

Years of nights out drinking and playing card games and non-ANBU missions flash through his mind.

He shrugs. “They’re annoying, but they’re good friends.”

 


 

Dinner is...awkward.

Damnit Minato.

Kushina knows her husband means well, but sometimes the blond could be very short sighted.

Kami help her, she usually loved him for it, but today she wants nothing more than to drag him out of the apartment by his ear and knock some sense into him.

She and Mikoto are able to chatter easily, years of close friendship somewhat able to mend the heartbreak the Uchiha matriarch feels when entering Naruto’s home, a Naruto without Sasuke at his side, but Uchiha Fugaku is a different story.

(Dinner had been a disaster from the get go when the first thing Fukaku had said to Kakashi was, “Do you plan on stealing another one of my family’s eyes or is one enough?”

The room had fallen dead silent in shock, but before Obito or Rin could attack in outrage, Kakashi had blinked and deadpanned, “You think I want another one? This one gives me enough trouble.”

Tsunade had to punch Jiraiya through an open window to shut up his loud cackling.)

Fugaku now sits in stiff silence beside his wife, only opening his mouth to thank Minato and Kushina for their hospitality like any good Clan Head would and give a short greeting to his young, distant nephew Obito. He barely acknowledges Jiraiya and Tsunade and doesn’t bother looking at either Rin or Kakashi for the rest of the meal, which in turn only makes Obito even more uncomfortable and Tsunade irritable.  

Shizune would’ve been a welcome addition, but after Rin had nearly shattered a glass at just the mention of her, Kushina decides her absences is probably for the best.

I need to invest in cheaper dishes, she thinks morosely.

Thankfully, Jiraiya’s charisma and Minato’s amiable personality are able to get the rest of the table to talk - the Toad Sage’s teasing leads to Tsunade ignoring him in favor of discussing something important with Rin, while Minato sighs and rolls his eyes at Obito for trying and failing to swipe food off of Kakashi’s plate. Kakashi even manages to distract his teammate from glaring kunai at the Uchiha Clan Head with questions about his Kenjutsu school curriculum.

There is some tension hanging over the table, more so than usual when Minato or Kushina invite the Uchiha’s over for dinner, but she’s not quite sure who it’s from.

She has an idea though.

“Well, I’ll go get dessert!” Kushina announces when it’s obvious the atmosphere won’t improve after a full belly. Half the table looks at her imploringly but her eyes zoom in on one person. “Kakashi-kun! Come help your neesan get dessert!”

“Hai, hai,” Kakashi says sedately, rising gracefully from his seat and following her to the kitchen.

The dining room is silent for a moment before Mikoto, bless her heart, politely and genuinely asks how Rin is doing, and noise picks up again.

Kushina sighs in relief.

“Didn’t expect to have a few extra guests?” Kakashi asks, but he sounds amused.

Kushina glares at him before shaking her head, “Let’s just say Minato’s a genius in foreign diplomacy but terrible with personal relationships. Took the goof nearly six years to tell me he liked me so I’m not surprised he didn’t realize this would be a disaster.”

“Sounds like Minato-sensei,” Kakashi nods.

“He’s lucky he’s loveable,” Kushina says, grinning to herself as she pulls the cooled mochi out of the freezer. “By the way, if you want to borrow a book from the archives, you could just ask.”

Kakashi doesn’t even have the courtesy to look contrite, only smiling guilelessly and asking, “Which seal gave me away?”

Kushina hums to cover how impressed she is, “Well, you got passed the primary and secondary perimeter seals on the bookshelves well enough, and you reconfigured the main complex as well as I usually do it so I didn’t even noticed it’d been tampered with in the first place” She grins smugly, “Just missed the location-tracking seals I placed on the scrolls next to the ones you took. Those were the ones that told me something had been removed within their set parameters.”

Kakashi blinks in honest surprise before huffing an incredulous laugh, “I didn’t even think of that.”

The redhead tilts her head, eyeing him seriously, arms crossed and leaning against the counter by her hip.“You know, Kakashi-kun, you might not have Minato’s knack for seals but you pick up on them a lot quicker than anyone else I’ve met outside of my clan. If you want, I could teach you a few things. Your foundations are a bit unorthodox, I’m guessing from learning through observation and recreation, but they’re solid. And I’ve seen some of the seals you’ve placed around your and Obito’s apartment. That’s pretty high-level stuff.”

To her surprise, Kakashi ducks his head a little, flustered , “Ah, thank you for saying so, but those are just crude copies from my own home and modified from some of Minato-sensei’s old scrolls.”

Kushina wants to squeal and coo at him because Kakashi is being all shy and humble and it’s the cutest thing she’s ever seen.

She doesn’t get her answer, unfortunately, because just then the voices in the other room raise above civil speaking level, and moments later, Mikoto appears with an apologetic look. “Kushina, I think it’s time for us to go,” she says. “Thank you so much for dinner. It was lovely, as usual. I’m sorry we have to miss dessert.”

Kushina frowns but nods, “It’s alright, probably for the best. Next week, same time, same place?”

Mikoto nods, smiling in that beautiful, demure way that Kushina used to envy. “Of course.”

She disappears and soon Kushina can’t feel her calm chakra or Fugaku’s cold, solid presence. She doesn’t know if she’s more relieved or disappointed.

“I’m assuming dinners have been like this for a while?” Kakashi asks lightly, sounding more concerned for her than actually curious.

Kushina’s shoulders drop, “Yeah. About six years, give or take.” She growls, frustrated, eyes stinging with the threat of angry tears, and the room fills with glowing red privacy seals thoughtlessly, “This is so unfair. Why does Mikoto have to put up with this? First she practically loses both her sons within a year, and now her bastard of a husband can’t even get his head out of his own ass and help her through it? Sometimes I can’t stand seeing them together because she looks so sad next to him! Why does she have to put up with it? She doesn’t deserve this-”

She doesn’t realize she’s crying until Kakashi is there in front of her with a handkerchief.

“Sorry, I’m sorry, I just-”

“There’s nothing to apologize for,” Kakashi says evenly, no judgment in his tone as she wipes her face. “It’s a terrible situation for everyone.”

Later, Kushina will be thankful he doesn’t take her side in berating Fugaku. Later, she will be grateful he didn’t fill her head with platitudes and agreements. Later, she will see what Kakashi sees - a broken man doing his best, even if his best isn’t enough to help his wife.

For now, though, she just wants to forget the look on her best friends face, like she’s losing the will to live.

 


 

Jiraiya leans back against the couch cushions, muscles finally releasing the slightest bit of tension that had coiled there for the majority of the night, and taps the arm of the chair exactly three times. Light races across the floor before dimming just as quickly.

He leans surreptitiously to the side, “Am I the only one that got the feeling our little Kakashi really doesn’t like Fugaku?”

Rin takes a quick glance at her teammate who is currently being accosted by Kushina and Minato over dish-washing duty in the kitchen, bites her lip, and nods carefully.

Kakashi’s usually mild attitude had taken a surprising turn to cold at the first sight of Uchiha Fugaku, though she hadn’t noticed until halfway through dinner. She’s sure Fugaku-sama’s callous words did nothing to help the mutual distrust between them shrink whatsoever.

Obito looks at him like he’s an idiot but drops his voice anyway. “You think?

Jiraiya scowls at the impudent brat. “It was kind of hard to tell after that little spectacle you pulled towards the end.”

Obito colors but he can’t exactly dispute it, “He was being rude to Rin!”

Rin sighs, “I can deal with a cold shoulder, Obito.”

Jiraiya doesn’t say more, interrupted by Tsunade’s sharp look. “Shut up, both of you. Regarding Hatake, the feeling is certainly mutual on Fugaku’s part.”

Obito glances down guiltily, grim and knowing with understanding, and Jiraiya is proud and sad to see his students team grow up so well. “Fugaku-ojiisama is a lot better now, especially after what happened to Shisui and then the- the thing with Itachi and Sasuke, but the Clan as a whole is still really protective of the Sharingan.” He shakes his head, dismayed and subdued, “A non-Uchiha coming back with one? Especially during a war ? I wouldn’t be surprised if they demanded his head.”

Rin’s lips thin but she doesn’t dispute it. Uchiha or not, they all understand how highly Kekkei Genkai’s are coveted and protected. “Kakashi-kun…"

Obito’s expression pinches with confusion, “But that can’t be it, can it? I get maybe not getting along, especially after the crap he said in the beginning, but Kakashi’s wouldn’t hold a grudge over something like that. It sucks, but Clan politics and stuff...he’d get it, you know?”

And Jiraiya does know. He knows, almost better than Minato, how Kakashi viewed himself when he was a child, how hard it is to live with an unbearable burden, especially one that another Obito had unwittingly (or knowingly) given him. He wouldn’t be surprised if young Kakashi, barely on the cusp of adulthood, willingly became a lamb for slaughter - if he thought it was for the good of the village, if he believed his role as a tool for the Hokage was done.

If the Uchiha wanted him blinded or dead, Kakashi would - does - understand and accept it because it’s for the good of the village.

He eyes the silver-haired genius speculatively as Rin and Obito quietly converse, wondering just how much the rigid, angry boy he knew changed, chest tightening the slightest bit because by the Shodai Kakashi looks just like his father, wild hair and strong jaw and tall build all from Sakumo. He thought he’d gotten over the resemblance during the Council meeting, but it still throws him how much of his old friend he sees.

The sight of him brings back regrets he thought he was so good at burying.

Tsunade flicks him gently in the thigh - and gently for her means he’ll wake up tomorrow with a massive bruise covering most of his upper leg, but it does the trick - and draws him out of his unwitting melancholy just as the Namikazes drag Kakashi back with some tea and mochi. No one mentions Kushina’s slightly red-rimmed eyes or when Kakashi, like last time, chooses the armchair furthest from reach.

They all settle, talking mindlessly of missions and current projects around the village, and Jiraiya doesn’t miss the quicksilver looks of content and heartbreak that dart across the silver-haired Jounin’s face.

“If you want to know something, you can just ask.” Kakashi says mildly during a quiet lull in conversation, teacup mysteriously empty in his hands.

Kushina blinks when everyone turns to her and her face colors as bright as her hair, hiding behind her teacup guiltily. Obito and Rin’s glances, while noticeable, were not as overt as her long stare and Minato sighs at his wife’s antics. Jiraiya smirks, knowing Kushina noticed a seal being activated in her living room and subtly changed it for her own purposes. Her curiosity probably stems from their conversation about Uchiha Fugaku and why Kakashi and the Clan Head seem to be on bad terms.

It never ceases to amaze him, what Uzumaki’s can do.

Jiraiya is the one to reply with a shameless grin, “Should’ve known you’d have Sakumo’s freakishly good senses. Not even my sound barrier could block out everything, huh?”

“Hm,” Kakashi hums noncommittally, “Not necessarily. Lip-reading isn’t difficult, and Kushina-neesan thinks she’s better at hiding her reactions than she is when she’s listening in on something she shouldn’t.”

Kushia sticks his tongue out at him but doesn’t refute it, and though none of them exactly know how Kakashi knew what they were saying with Obito’s back turned to the kitchen, they are astute enough to realize that his mind works on a different level. Tsunade shifts, arms crossed under her considerable bust, and though she says nothing and shows no remorse for their secretive discussion, the Toad Sage can see she is, if even slightly, impressed.

“Alright kid, I’ll just ask then.” Jiraiya prompts, leaning forward with a curious spark in his eye, but something foreboding warns him he won’t like what he hears, “What’s goin’ on with you and Fugaku?”

“I didn’t hide that very well, did I?” Kakashi asks, a note of black humor in his tone.  

Jiraiya’s grin is shark-like, “I don’t think you even tried to.” He shrugs, “I mean, I get it, he’s hard to deal with on a good day. Did he order or death or something after Obito gave you that eye?”

Minato stiffens beside him but doesn’t interrupt.

Sakumo’s son looks at him then, really looks at him like he's actually seeing him and not a ghost of his imagination like he’d been doing the entire dinner whenever Jiraiya had dragged him into a conversation, lone grey eye piercing with a gaze that is far too old for even a shinobi thrown into war so young. His finger taps the teacup absentmindedly, but the Sannin is slowly learning that nothing Kakashi does is absent-minded.

His words are measured, “No. Fugaku-san was the one to calm his clan. He believed that, as it was Obito’s final wish, I should keep the Sharingan, and for that I am grateful to him.”

He’s sincere, but Jiraiya is sure no one misses the lack of deference given to Fugaku or his title.

Rin starts, “Then why? Why the-” she waves a hand, unable to explain.

Because it’s not outright hostility but it’s not simple dislike. Disappointment would be a better word if it wasn’t such a strange idea.

Kakashi sighs, “I apologize. I haven’t made my feelings a secret and it’s unfair of me to judge him for what I blame the Uchiha Fugaku in my world to have failed in.” Jiraiya knows there’s a lot more to it than that - Kakashi is too good to let them (or Fugaku) know how he feels unless he wants them to know.

Minato has never been one to push, believing firmly that unless it was a direct threat to a teammate's safety, prying into another’s affairs is unnecessary.

Jiraiya knows he sure as hell didn’t teach his student that . “Well, now you’ve got me curious.”

His little blond student shoots him a warning glare that he ignores.

He feels a little bad of course, it’s never in good taste to undermine a person of authority in front of their subordinates - in this case, Obito and Rin - but he has questions that need answers. Minato may trust the brat already, and Jiraiya trusts his student, but the man is nothing like Jiraiya sometimes imagined his friends son would’ve been in his drunker, more reminiscent moments.

However, Kakashi’s vocabulary has evolved from curt insults and reciting the shinobi rulebook since his teen years. “It seems you’ll have to stay curious for a while longer,” he says dryly.

He says it lightly but there’s steel infused in his words, inflexible. The same steel and unbendable will that he’s always had lacing his spine even at such a young age, and Jiraiya knows nothing he can do will make him talk. It’s frustrating but it makes him absurdly proud as well, and he can almost see why Minato trusts him so much so quickly.

But those aren’t the only things he wants - needs - to know about.

“Hopefully not too long, kid.” Jiraiya says in acquiescence, gracefully backing out of what was gearing up to be an interrogation. “There’s a lot to discuss.”

Obito and Rin shoot each other furtive looks and Minato doesn’t object like he half-expects.

It only confirms his suspicions, though, that his student and his students know far more than they are saying now, even if they don't know everything either. But like Minato said earlier, it’s Kakashi’s story to tell, and so Jiraiya will wait even with Tsunade’s burning gaze boring into him.

 


 

Itachi stirs long before the masked man arrives, and when he senses two eyes, one grey and one red, burning into him, it’s with a vague sense of understanding that it’s because the man wants to be found.

He’s heard rumors, of course, of the Yondaime’s protege walking among them again after more than fifteen long years of being dead, killed saving a comrade in a disturbing reflection of his father's sacrifice. Itachi had been asked as a favor for the Yondaime to secretly play bodyguard among the stationed ANBU for the unconscious jounin - proclaimed a child genius, the youngest to join the ranks of shinobi and no stranger to war - but beyond the man's ability to sneak out of the hospital undetected and bypass his own carefully set traps around the greenhouse, Itachi has no interest in him whatsoever.

He greets him out of courtesy, doesn’t stop watering a row of beautifully flourishing echinacea even as he keeps the other within his senses at all times.

“Hatake Kakashi-san.”

The man offers a casual, two-fingered salute, and addresses him more intimately than even his own family these days. “Yo, Uchiha-kun. How have you been?”

For some reason, he is bothered by how unperturbed the man is in his presence. No one dares interrupt him when he is in his greenhouse, not unless there is an absolute emergency because this is his space to think and breathe in peace, and he is sure this supposed genius has done his research and knows this well.

Well-practiced hands gently pry the withered leaves of one of his herb bushes even with Hatake’s sharp gaze on him, but he can wait until Itachi is done with his task.

A pale hand delicately traces over the time-keeping piece given to him by his older cousin and notices it is midday already. Where has the time gone? “I’m fine, Hatake-san. And yourself?”

What does it feel like to be a dead man walking?

“Fine, fine. Sure is a beautiful day, isn’t it? Perfect for taking care of a garden as diverse as this.” Hatake’s tone is conversationaly, almost bored, when he says this, not particularly inviting but not hostile. A twig snaps twenty feet to Itachi’s right. “Hm. Betulina barosma. Very rare, only found on the harsh, rocky surfaces of Lightning Country’s mountain ranges, right? Impressive.”

So he’s already broken into my files and read my old mission reports.

That particular mission is highly classified and supposedly under heavy guard, restricted to everyone but the Hokage and his closest advisors.

“Thank you.” Itachi intones, politeness flatlining into apathy. “Shouldn’t you be preparing for your match tomorrow?”

“Maa, probably,” Hatake shrugs.

It’s hard to believe that this man was once the frontrunner of his generation, a dangerous shinobi and legend-in-the-making who would one day surpass his once great father, when he stands at a slouch in scuffy jounin blues with an apathetic air about him, but Itachi doesn’t miss the subtle grace in his movements or the underscore of steel in his voice beneath the lackadaisical attitude. It makes his skin prickle with unease.

Itachi has done his research too, read in a cursory file that, even as a child, Hatake’s mind was as sharp as a Nara’s with senses as good as an Inuzuka tracker, is calm in almost any situation with incredible analytical skills and strategic ability; traits that would flourish under the Yondaime’s tutelage and years of experience as guidance. Traits that would easily make him a Hokage candidate in the future, if he was so inclined.

If he wasn’t actually dead.

With this knowledge, Itachi knows he would not be approached if the Hatake didn’t want something, and under normal circumstances, Itachi would not mind a spar to gauge the man’s skills for himself even in his retirement.

However, he is tired.

He’s always tired, these days, and he doesn’t want a spar, verbal or otherwise, when there are more important things to be doing; gardening and training and studying and planning because praying to a being he doesn’t believe in won’t bring back his brother.

Itachi is done with games. “Is there something you needed, Hatake-san?”

Hatake’s head tilts to the side and deliberately ignores his question with one of his own. “Why a greenskeeper?”

Itachi moves onto his next plant and purposefully sets off one of his simpler traps. Kunai and shuriken fly out with deadly accuracy but he doesn’t hear the sound of metal meeting flesh. How unfortunate.

“Now that wasn’t very nice,” Hatake admonishes but he sounds amused.

Itachi doesn’t break his stride to the vines climbing the southern wall of his greenhouse. “The war is over. We are at peace. Why kill when I can grow?”

“‘Better to be a warrior in a garden than a gardener in a war.’” Hatake recites easily, a note of solemnity touching his words, and Itachi stills, hand hovering over another taut wire hidden among the leaves. “An old proverb, I’m sure you know. An apt one, in your case.”

Itachi is done with games. “What do you want, Hatake-san?”

Itachi assumes the man is no longer smiling, but it’s hard to tell with the artificial lights casting harsh shadows across the man's blurry, masked face. “You know, we may be at peace for now, but war will always come whether or not we want it. We must be prepared for that possibility.”

Itachi thinks of child soldiers and bloody battlefields, of too many bodies to burn and funerals to count, the rivers of blood that choke the earth and oceans of tears that drown the living. He doesn’t attack despite the sudden sensation of dread that disrupts the apathy that has lived in his bones for years. He doesn’t attack, but it’s a near thing.

Instead, he fully faces the stranger that does not belong in this world, mind whirring with carefully hidden alarm. “That sounds much like something some of the Council members would say.”

Finally, the infuriating, faint edge of bored indifference in Hatake’s demeanor dissipates with something sharper taking its place.

Acknowledgement. Awareness.

“Yes, it does, doesn’t it?”

The man looks away, in the direction of Itachi’s haunting willow tree, but the Uchiha can tell he is not really seeing it, and a sense of foreboding chills his his blood when that old, broken gaze returns to him after a long moment.

“Unlike certain Council members, Uchiha-kun, I’ve had my fill of war and death and do not hunger for more,” Hatake reveals gravely, eyes still far away and boring into Itachi all the same with bare honesty, words heavy with promise and ringing of prophecy, “and unlike certain Council members, I know war is coming, and I want to stop it if I can.”

The man disappears in a swirl of leaves.

Chapter Text

Kakashi doesn’t really know why he visits.

He’s going to be late meeting Obito and Rin at their old training grounds at this rate, but he just needs to satisfy his curiosity.

His apartment - the one he moved into soon after his father's death, the one he paid for with his own money saved up from dozens of D-ranks and kept for years and years after despite being so small, because even though it never really felt like home, it was his - is most likely occupied by now, if not demolished altogether, but...

He goes anyway, because he has to know if the whip smart old landlady with a silver tongue and wiley spirit is doing okay.

Being a civilian wife of a shinobi is a hard, stressful life, and even as closed off to the world as he was as a child, Kakashi could see her struggle through the haggard lines on her face and the bow in her back after her husband's death.

But Tanaba Hiromi is strong in the way civilians of shinobi villages tend to be, stubborn and determined to forge on in life with her memories only helping her move forward, and Kakashi remembers admiring that trait when he at one time felt like he would collapse under the weight of the village’s expectations, lose himself in the shadows of his father's legacy. She, unlike many others, didn’t turn him away when he came looking for a new home, a new start. She merely looked at him with her sharp eyes surrounded by crows feet and told him rent was due the third of every month, no exceptions.

He became something like her personal handyman after that, one of the only shinobi to live in her complex, and in return she would give him leftovers of whatever recipe she tried that week.

Theirs was a strange relationship, unlike most normal landladies and tenants, and certainly closer than most even if it wasn’t obvious. She constantly sniped about his height and he snapped at her about her terrible cooking. She berated him for his poor social life and he turned his nose up at whatever sweets she tried to force-feed him. She never mentioned the bloody trails leading to his apartment after a long mission or the bandages she left on his doorstep, and he never forgot to bring her flowers on her birthday and remind her that she was still too young to complain about a bad back.

(Her funeral was a small thing, a week after she died protecting children from Suna shinobi during the invasion of the Chunin Exams.

Ha, look at that! Your brats aren’t half-bad, shrimp. Maybe you’ll make shinobi out of them yet.

Few attended as she was survived by none and there were already so many funerals, but those who did come shed more tears for her than followers of royalty; beloved students and close friends from years passed, mothers and fathers thanking her for saving their children, and one lone scarecrow watching it all in the distance.)

I’m losing my touch, he muses when the door opens before he can knock, pulling him out of his thoughts when familiar, piercing eyes look him up and down suspiciously.

He finds he’s without words.

She doesn’t bat an eye at his appearance or his silence, though, and gruffly accuses after a long moment, “You’re late on your rent, brat.”

He blinks down at her in surprise.

Hiromi’s eyes are even narrower than he remembers, more wrinkles aging her face, voice rougher and more grating than before as a result of four decades as a teacher screaming at her students to sit down and shut up eventually catching up with her added with her penchant for dressing down disrespectful civilians and shinobi alike. For a moment, he thinks she doesn’t really remember him, except he knows he didn’t imagine seeing a flash of blush pink on his grave marker, a single tea rose set below his engraved name.

I will remember, always.

He dips his head with a smile. “Ah, sorry. Dying tends to do that.”

The woman huffs when he holds out her favorite flowers in apology, but he can see the reluctant smile make it’s way on to her face, making her seem twenty years younger all at once. She ushers him inside for tea and whatever concoction she’s cooked up that day - a lemon-something that he’s pretty sure isn’t supposed to be that shade of green - and politely pretends he can’t see the beginnings of tears she gruffly wipes away as she points to the kitchen.


“Well, the least you can do is make yourself useful, brat. That faucet’s been leaking for eighteen years.”

Chapter Text

That was a stupid move.

Too late to take it back though

Confronting Itachi had been the original plan (after he tossed out assassination - too high profile, and he's not even sure he could kill Itachi at this point, retired or not), but he hadn’t meant to reveal so much so soon.

Even after mentally preparing himself for days, seeing Sasuke’s older brother again had still been an uncomfortable shock. He hadn’t been able to see passed those unfathomable eyes, couldn’t help but imagine the other wearing a black robe colored with red clouds instead of a simple gardening kimono. His hands had been in his pockets for a majority of their interaction, trembling, because the vivid nightmare of his former teammate carrying out the massacre of an entire clan will always be burned into his memories.

But he had to do something, even if it was something as crazy as tentatively reaching out to a veritable mass murderer and potential missing nin.

It’s worked for Naruto so far, right?

“Guess I’ll have to play it by ear,” the clone mutters quietly to himself, transformed into a large tree branch just outside the boundaries of the academy as his target moves among the school children with disgusting ease.

After all, he has a lot of people to keep an eye on, including a possible traitor.

 


 

“Rin?”

She ignores the sound of her name called tentatively, arms full of medical reports and mind set on not causing a scene in the middle of a busy hospital hallway.

“Rin, come one. Talk to me.”

Her mouth is moving before she consciously realizes it. “Why talk when I have nothing to say to you?”

It’s said with more vitriol than she anticipates, but it serves to quiet the person attempting to get her attention for a minute.

A quiet, “Rin, please.”

Jaw clenched, Rin calls an intern over to her and orders them to sort her stack of files while she’s busy. The poor kid practically wets himself at her intensity, but she can’t think to feel sorry about it as she grabs her followers arm in a rough grip and drags her into an empty room with privacy seals. The activate with her wordless command and she turns to glare at her friend.

What do you want, Shizune? If you can’t tell, we’re kind of busy today and Kakashi’s match is in a few hours.”

Shizune draws back, hurt, and Rin softens without meaning to.

“Rin, look, I know I made a mistake-”

The softness disappears abruptly and she sees red. “You falsified Kakashi’s medical documents , Shizune!”

“I know! I thought-”

“You thought what Shizune? That I wouldn’t notice critical tenketsu points being blocked? That I’d somehow miss the hairline stress fractures in his spinal cord and weakened tendons? All injuries that should’ve been documented and treated while I was on leave?”

She’d listened to Shizune’s concerns about Kakashi just days ago when she confronted her about Kakashi’s injuries, watched her talk about the potential threat he poses even if he himself isn’t aware, and she’d been angry then, but lying about his health? Allowing his body to stay in that condition? Purposefully keeping it from her? She doesn’t understand why her friend would do such a thing, and the confusion only makes the horrified rage burn that much hotter.

“I was here when they brought him in. He was in pretty rough shape.”

Rin knows. She read the reports. Several times.

Like usual, Shizune reads her easily. “That file doesn’t have everything, Rin. You’re right, I left some things out.”

Rin...didn’t know that.

Shizune takes a deep breath, and Rin can almost see the walls building up, calm mask carefully constructing itself over her friends face in front of her very eyes. She’s only seen it a few times and very rarely has it been directed against her. It makes her fingers twitch for a piece of gauze.

In less than a few moments, she’s no longer looking at Shizune, her friend.

She’s looking at the calm, cool visage of Tsunade’s first apprentice.

Her eyes widen, never leaving Shizune’s hard gaze. “Why-”

“I didn’t want you to worry more than you are now.” Shizune holds a hand up placatingly to stifle Rin’s building outrage. “I’m just saying, he isn’t the same person you know. He’s been through some terrible things, more so than your average shinobi, and I don’t want-” I don’t want him to hurt you again. “I haven’t heard anything about his evaluation with Ibiki-san yet, so I can’t really judge his mental state, but Rin...you know as well as I do that even with proper healing, there will always be signs and scars left. His body has been through alot, and usually people who go through that kind of torture-”

Rin knows there’s more she should hear, but she can’t listen to the rest without doing she may regret later.

Shizune doesn’t say anything to those claims, defensive or otherwise, actually starts to pale in horror, and Rin doesn’t even know who she’s talking to anymore.

A horrible realization worms its way inter her mind when she thinks back on the thorough physical she’d done while Kakashi was still unconscious just before her leave, how she left her teammate in Shizune’s care because she was running herself ragged, and she chokes out, “Did you... do that to him?”

“I-” Shizune starts, looking almost panicked now, nothing like the collected medic she is. “We had to keep him contained, Rin, I had no choice. When they tried to do diagnostics on him, he incapacitated three of my trained medics and two other chunin before Gai managed to tie him down to the bed. By then, his three cracked ribs had completely broken, and his concussion had gotten worse! It was for the safety of the staff and him.”

The excuses are weak and Shizune knows it.

“We- we have protocol for that Shizune, what the hell made you think-”

“A senior medic, Hiyoshi, came to me with concerns about Kakashi-san’s security! He had full belief in Hokage-samas seals but he was worried about any physical restraints because the seals keep him from escaping or molding chakra, not fighting. So we sealed a few tenketsu points to keep him more or less sedated-”

Rin feels like she’s stepped into a twilight zone.

“You crippled a man, Shizune! It’s a miracle he didn’t permanently damage something sparring Gai! Why would you- that goes directly against our oath as medical professionals! Do no harm. Why? Why?”

Shizune looks so lost when she whispers, “I don’t know.”

Rin’s lips thin. “I didn’t say anything to Tsunade-sama before, but this…”

“Rin, I swear, I don’t know why I did it! I thought it was the right thing to do then, but now-” Shizune stops, hands trembling and looking truly remorseful, almost terrified.

Rin doesn’t know what to believe.

 


 

“Yamanaka-kun!”

Yamanaka Ryuu stops in his tracks, mind racing to place the voice, and is too late to run when a gloved hand lands on his shoulder in a visibly friendly pat with invisibly controlled strength.

He turns, brittle and polite when he greets, “Ah, Hatake-san. Nice to see you again.” Lie.

The man’s masked smile was unnerving the first time he saw it, little less than two weeks ago. It still is now. “Same to you. Busy?”

No . “Actually, I’m-”

“Free? Good, good.”

“Don’t you have-”

“Ah, don’t worry. I have a few hours to spare. Let’s get dango, my treat!”

Ryuu understands an order when he hears one, the thready echo of an ANBU captain’s commanding tone ringing in those innocuous words, and he doesn’t protest when the older jounin leads him to a dango shop down the street where it’s less crowded and far more private. They end up taking a table half-hidden by a giant cardboard cutout displaying some advertisement, and his mouth twists in a half-grimace when instead of dango like he expects, Hatake orders a plate of pork dumplings and a special blend of tea meant for soothing headaches.

It’s his usual order.

“Thank you,” he says stiltedly.

He knows the side-effects of the jutsu he’d used as well as Hatake apparently does. Looking into someone's mind using that technique is like flashing a powerful light into a mirror - no one knows what will be reflected besides the desired memories, and with Hatake’s Sharingan, the effects are even more uncertain. The horrifying part, though, is he can’t tell if the man knows his preferences through those side effects or close scrutiny.

“No problem,” Hatake replies easily, picking up a stick of dango he’d ordered for himself even though Ryuu knows quite well the man despises most sweets. “A hard-working young man like you deserves a break from all those nasty Root interrogations, and working for Ibiki certainly is no picnic.”

Ryuu’s eyes dart up to Hatake’s expressionless face in alarm, hand already halfway to his kunai pouch.

His hand is stopped by one of those very same dango sticks piercing his shirtsleeve and anchoring him to the tabletop, the crackle of lightning distinct and threatening.

It disappears into the air and in seconds it’s just a regular, if charred, dango stick again.

Ryuu lowers his voice and he can very well hear the threat in his own words when he asks, “What do you think you’re doing?”

However, he’s fairly sure he, a tokubetsu jounin, can’t beat Hatake, his senior by four years and a certified prodigy, in a fight so he doesn’t know why he thinks feigning force will get him any answers, especially with the way Hatake’s posture never changes from a relaxed slouch. And he doesn’t think he wants to know what the man is thinking, in all honesty. The memories that still stubbornly cling to the fringes of his mind are enough to give him new nightmares on top of his own, and he knows whatever Hatake’s about to say will do the opposite of soothe them.

“Maa, easy there. Just having a casual conversation with good company in nice weather. Is that so much to ask for?” Hatake sighs, picking up another stick of dango. “Besides, I already have a genjutsu up. Anyone bothering to listen will think I’m asking about my evaluation with Ibiki. They think you’re gushing about your kid to get out of answering my questions, by the way.”

He knows about Ko-chan. How many memories did he see?

Ryuu relaxes his rigid posture and pulls the stick out of his shirt, but he doesn’t move his hand farther than six inches from his weapons pouch. “Then what do you really want to ask about?”

“Have you met a Root member that goes by the codename Kinoe?”

Kinoe.

Nothing about Hatake’s demeanor outwardly changes, but Ryuu knows that Kinoe is somehow important. “No.”

“Hm,” Hatake hums, twirling his second mysteriously empty dango stick casually between his gloved fingers. It’s a simple piece of wood, but now Ryuu knows how deadly it is in his hands. “I’m not sure I believe you, Yamanaka-kun.”

Blue eyes narrow. “Maybe you’re not asking the right questions, Hatake-san. And maybe I have some of my own.”

“I see. Well then, how about this? A question for a question.”

Ryuu doesn’t know why he’s even entertaining this man any longer than he has to, but he see’s one swirling red eye in the back of his mind, one that sends a shiver of icy fear down his back. This eye, he knows, is not the same one borrowed by Hatake. “Fine.”

“Wonderful.”

“Who is Danzou in your world?”

The vague amusement in Hatake’s demeanor abruptly vanishes. “Straight to the point, I see. From what I’ve gathered, he seems to be remarkably similar to the one I know. Former teammate of Sarutobi Hiruzen, Hokage advisor and Council member. Although, it seems Minato-sensei has a new set of advisors.”

“That’s it?”

“Maybe you’re not asking the right questions,” is Hatake’s cheerful reply.

Ryuu can feel his left eye twitch irritably.

Hatake leans back in his seat, mulling over his next question. “Now, have you ever heard of, spoken to, interrogated, read a file on, and or interacted with a possible member of Root or ANBU or both in the last ten years who is capable of using Mokuton?”

Ryuu narrows his eyes suspiciously and answers honestly, “Yes. Why do you hate Danzou?”

“Why don’t I hate Danzou?” The blond has to bite back a smile at that but outwardly scowls. “Fine, fine. He is a power hungry warmonger and has visions of a Konoha I will never support.”

That...is certainly a bold statement to make, so candid and out in the open in the heart of the village even under the cover of a genjutsu.

It’s that boldness that allows Ryuu to admit, “Well, we have something in common then. Who is ‘Tobi’?”

Hatake regards him with a long, measuring look before saying with startling severity. “A very dangerous S-ranked missing nin who I hope you never meet.”

Ryuu feels the hairs on his arms stand on end, both from the charged air coming from Hatake and the warning in his words.

He swallows. “I’ll keep that in mind. Your turn.”

The atmosphere lightens. “When and where did you hear of, speak to, interrogate, read a file on, or interact with this possible member of Root or ANBU or both?”

This man is utterly ridiculous and possible bipolar, but he’s thorough and Ryuu knows he brought this on himself. “Six months ago, just before the border of the Land of Sound.”

“Valley of the End,” Hatake murmurs. “Hm.”

“Is that important?” Ryuu asks, more out of habit than interest. Then he winces.

Hatake hides his smugness well. “Not sure yet. Last question: when was Otogakure founded?”

Ryuu’s brows furrow. Why ask something so easily found in textbooks? And why Oto? “Shortly after Yondaime-sama’s inauguration. Why is your Sharingan sometimes different?”

“So you did see it,” Hatake says, measured.

Ryuu leans forward, urgency rushing through his blood with the implied confirmation. “I know the Uchiha have secrets surrounding their Doujutsu, as does pretty much every clan about their Kekkei Genkai’s, but I’ve seen a Sharingan transform like that only once before. What does yours do?”

Hatake watches him carefully for a long moment, as if weighing his worth and determining how much truth he should divulge. He sounds reluctant when he eventually reveals, “I shouldn’t say, even if it is technically public information...but at the rate things are going, it will come out sooner or later.” Ryuu doesn’t comment on the strange remark. “It’s the second level of the Sharingan, the Mangekyo Sharingan.”

Mangekyo Sharingan. I’ve heard of that before. But where?

“It’s a very powerful stage of the Doujutsu that few can access. Mine in particular is related to space-manipulation, but even I am not completely aware of the full range of its powers.”

Ryuu leans back in his seat, feeling just the slightest bit overwhelmed.

“And since those were two questions, I get to save one for another time,” Hatake cheerfully announces. Before Ryuu can protest, Hatake looks at his nonexistent watch in mock surprise. “Well, look at the time. I’ll see you later, great talk!”

The masked nin gives him a two-fingered salute and disappears in a poof of smoke.

Ryuu can feel a headache coming on as he takes another sip of his tea, now cold.

Note to self: prolonged contact with Hatake will lead to migraines. But...I suppose he’s not a bad guy.

Ryuu smiles politely when the waitress comes over to drop off the bill, but as soon as he looks at it, he blinks dumbly at the receipt - a lengthy one that comprises of his pork dumplings and tea, Hatake’s dango...and a round of sweets and sake for everyone in the establishment.

His left eye twitches.

That bastard.

 


 

“Oi, kid, stop freaking out.”

Minato shoots his teacher a quick glare, especially when the man’s eyes start to linger on a few women at another table instead of staying focused on their conversation. “I’m not freaking out! I’m just…”

“Worried he’s gonna get his ass handed to him?”

“Jiraiya-sensei!” Minato admonishes, batting away the sake the Sannin keeps waving in his face. “I’m not drinking sake with you, it’s not even noon! And of course not, I know he’s going to do fantastic.”

Jiraiya grins. “Good, cause I doubt that brat’s going down without a good fight, even against Gai.”

“I know, I know. I have complete faith in him to wow the other judges.” Or at least impress the ones that matter. With two Sannin, three Clan Heads, a few Council members, and a handful of accomplished jounin to perform in front of, it’s not going to be easy for his former student. “I hate politics.”

Jiraiya lets out a booming laugh, slapping a heavy hand to his shoulder in a jarring pat, “Well, kid, it’s a little late to change professions, and we both know Obito isn’t ready for the hat yet.”

Minato grumbles a little to himself, perking up when he sees his aforementioned student. “I need to go talk to him. See you later!”

He flashes away, leaving a few bills behind and ignoring his mentors squawk of indignity at being left in the middle of their lunch.

“Kakashi!” Minato calls, reaching his student in record time with a bright grin.

Kakashi nods at him in greeting. “Afternoon, sensei.” He shoots a look at the shack the Sannin is still eating in with a raised eyebrow. “I’m not interrupting anything important am I?”

Minato shakes his head. “Nope, just Jiraiya-sensei being himself. But I do have to tell you about the matches and how judging will go. I’m wasn’t allowed to say anything until two hours before your fight otherwise they’ll think you’ve been preparing specifically to show off.”

Well, it was mostly because they’ve never encountered a situation like this before so there’s been a lot of back and forth over what to do, but the notion is still absolutely ridiculous. Aside from a few flashy moves, Kakashi is the epitome of subtlety, and his student knows that flashiness will impress no one except for a few civilian council members and entertain a the Clan Heads.

At least, that’s what Minato remembers of him. It unsettles him to realize he doesn’t know if that’s changed.

He shakes it off as they head to the top of the Hokage Monument in tandem. “The judges in each match will vary depending on the subject. Since you’ll be fighting Gai today, Hiashi-san, Tsume-san, and Chouza-san will be the ones observing. And Hayate’s been downed by a nasty case of pneumonia so you’ll be tested in taijutsu as well as weapon proficiency.” Good thing Gai is an expert in both even if he favors the former. “The match itself isn’t like the final round of your chunin exams. You don’t have to beat Gai, and you don’t have to restrict yourself to just taijutsu and weaponry, but it is encouraged to not rely too heavily on anything else until the appropriate matches.”

“Sounds good to me,” Kakashi nods, not the least bit fazed by the fact that three of Konoha’s most prominent Clan Heads will be scrutinizing him.

“And most of your peers will be watching as well. They’ve been placing bets since word got out about the matches,” Minato adds with a grin. He heard about it from Tsunade who’d heard it from Shizune (and also placed a bet). Apparently there’s a rather large pot.

Kakashi sighs, sounding unsurprised. “I figured. Am I allowed to talk to Gai beforehand or will that penalize me?”

Kakashi sounds like he doesn’t really care if it does or not but Minato’s brows furrow in thought anyway. “I don’t think so. If you and Gai were close I would say be wary but since that’s not the case, I don’t see why not.”

Kakashi flinches at that and Minato suddenly feels like an idiot.

“Oh. You two are good friends then. In your…”

Kakashi shakes his head. “It’s fine. You aren’t wrong. I wasn’t close to...anyone when I was younger, even though Gai badgered me a lot for competitions. For me that’s changed, but for them...no, it’s accurate to call them just acquaintances.”

Good job, Minato. “Still, I don’t see a problem with it.”

“Thanks, sensei. So the Forest of Death, right?” Kakashi shoots him a two-fingered salute. “See you in a few hours!”

Minato belatedly remembers his students new bad habit and blurts, “Don’t be-” a poof of smoke, “-late.”

He sighs ruefully.

Well. This will certainly be interesting.

 


 

Last he heard, Gai was visiting the hospital because Tenten had received a rather nasty stab wound during her last mission.

So it’s with mild surprise that, after speaking with an extremely excited Gai, he finds Asuma’s hospital room - Asuma, who is three weeks overdue for his semi-annual physical and only has a sleeveless shirt on when Kakashi knocks and walks in. The mark on his arm is bare for the world to see.

Kakashi doesn’t realize he’s staring until Asuma waves a hand in front of his face.

“What, thought you were the only one good enough to join ANBU?” Asuma grunts, but it’s teasing. He brings a cigarette to his lips, and it only makes the muscles beneath his tattoo flex.

“Didn’t realize assassination was your thing,” Kakashi retorts, but his mind races with the implications.

Asuma never left and joined the Twelve Guardian Ninja of the Daimyo.

There are a lot of complications tangled with that one fact, mostly related to the near successful plan to overthrow the current (former?) Daimyo in order to make a coup d’etat in Konoha that much easier. He doesn’t really know or remember much, receiving the information second-hand after Asuma had returned home with shadowed eyes and a 35 million ryo bounty on his head, but he wonders if the coup is even necessary with Minato still reigning instead of Sarutobi Hiruzen.

With the Uchiha Clan still standing strong (for the most part), Uchiha Madara somewhere in the shadows (probably scheming), and Danzo lurking in the background (he really needs to break into the man's office soon), Kakashi has a bad feeling it won’t be that simple.

Minato-sensei didn’t order Itachi to kill the Uchiha, and with Obito still alive and loyal to the Hokage, there must’ve been a truce formed at some point.

Too many things changed, too many events he can’t predict. This isn’t the first time he’s been overwhelmed with the possibilities, but it isn’t until now that he realizes just how much is different - and all seemingly because of one death.

Unless there’s something else different.

It’s a jarring thought, one that hasn’t really crossed his mind because of the sheer amount of change that he’s been trying to absorb since waking up in this upside-down world, but maybe that’s because he’s been avoiding it. After all, it’s the only thing that glaringly stands out at him, the only thing he’s noticed as the root cause, but.

Maybe he’s been too self-absorbed. Maybe he really isn’t the catalyst to these changes.

There has to be another reason.

He’s brought back to the present when Asuma shrugs. “Not really. Just, after my dad died, it seemed like a good idea.”

That...makes a twisted sort of sense.

The Sandaime had been a fine Hokage, but it’s only to be expected for other aspects of his life to suffer - including his relationship with his son.

Kakashi doesn’t let it show how uncomfortable he feels at the topic, even after all these years and his own reconciliation with his ghosts. He’s never been good at discussing personal things, and the underlying grief in Asuma’s voice strikes too close to home for him. Even after the Sandaime died in his world, Asuma had never come to him (or Gai) with the intention of talking it out because of their shared lack of parentage.

He skirts around it and instead asks, “How long?”

His friend smirks but there’s something darker touching his features, something Kakashi recognizes because he sees it in the mirror everyday. “Not nearly as long as you. About five years, give or take. Two of them as captain.”

He doesn’t say why he retired and Kakashi doesn’t ask.

He has to make sure though. “Never left the village for another opportunity? Like...maybe becoming one of the Twelve Guardian Ninja?”

Smooth, Kakashi.

Asuma gives him a strange look and snorts. “Yeah, right. Me? Serving the Daimyo with all those stuffy, glorified bodyguards? No thanks.”

Ouch, poor Chiriku...but this means he no longer has a bounty on his head. Is that why Hidan and Kakuzu haven’t come for him? Or is it because they, along with their leader, are still in the shadows

He’s getting a headache just thinking about it.

He saves those assumptions for another time and shrugs. “Just a thought. Anyway, I’ll see you later.”

Asuma smirks, “Good luck in your fight, yeah? Make sure to give us a good show. We got a lot of money riding on this.”

“I hate all of you.”

Asuma’s full-bellied laughter follows him out the door.

 


 

“Is it just me or is Gai a little more energetic than usual?” Genma asks dryly, but it’s rhetorical.

Asuma coughs on a laugh. “You could say that again.”

Kurenai smirks. “Can you blame him? Gai’s been waiting for this fight since he, Anko, and Ebisu brought Kakashi back to the village.”

“Actually I think Genma’s right for once.” Raidou dodges the swipe Genma makes at him with a teasing smirk pulling at his scar, but it quickly dissolves when he looks back at Gai who seems to be almost vibrating out of his skin. “Gai’s really amped up, and after that beatdown you guys had last week, I’m not all that surprised, but it looks like he’s gearing up for something big.”

Asuma get’s a little thrill at seeing his wife make another grown man quail from just her glare alone.

An idea hits him and he looks at Genma. “You know...I saw him talk to Gai about an hour ago. He looked pretty serious, and that’s around when Gai started acting like this...you don’t think…”

It seems only his fellow former ANBU catches on to what he’s implying, and the senbon user’s eyes widen before he smirks. “We’ll just have to wait and see.”

 


 

Jiraiya can tell his former student is imperceptibly vibrating out of his skin in anticipation.

It’s amusing because it’s been awhile since he’s seen Minato so worked up, but he can’t really blame him. He’s been looking forward to this since he clapped eyes on his dead friends only son.

The jounin up on the second level look like little chunin-wannabes again, hiding their giddiness marginally better than when they were still genin, and the Clan Heads actually look like they want to be doing their title-required duty by being here to watch the literal once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to watch two prodigies of differing definitions go head-to-head. The handful of civilian council members look the least excited, most likely because they know they won’t be able to keep up with the fight, and Jiraiya is just relieved (and wary) that Danzo had opted out of watching.

Outwardly, Tsunade has her usual expression of vague irritation but Jiraiya knows her better than that. She’s curious if nothing else beneath that mask of cool indifference.

And Kakashi, the reason they were all gathered so deep in the Forest of Death, looks as unflappable as ever, seemingly completely still compared to Gai who is jumping around and running in circles with barely contained energy.

Minato walks forward and everyone straightens - except Kakashi of course - when he announces, “The Taijutsu and Weapons Proficiency Match will be led by Maito Gai. Judges will observe the recipient of the Proficiency Match, Hatake Kakashi, to gauge his ability in both Taijutsu and Weapons usage in high-level combat. There is no winner or loser, and the match will be called when all judges are satisfied with their observations.”

Basically, wail on each other until we get bored.

Jiraiya already knows the last Hatake is more than proficient with both weapons and taijutsu.

He’d caught the last bit of the spar between him, Rin, Obito and Asuma, Kurenai, and Gai, and he’d been impressed even though it wasn’t really much of a surprise. Genius isn’t something that is forgotten, only bettered by years of experience. But he also knows politics and that this entire match is set up so that Minato can, without challenge or accusations of favoritism, officially reinstate Kakashi as a jounin under his command.

It’s too bad Naruto’s return had been delayed. Jiraiya would’ve liked to have shown his student what a fight between two monsters looked like, especially involving Gai who Naruto already has a healthy respect (and comical fear) for.

It’s going to be a fairly even and exciting match, he can already tell.

 


 

Even when using the Sharingan, it’s still surprising to see that Kakashi is able to keep up with Gai.

“Shit, is he good at everything? ” Genma moans, slumping against the railing even as his eyes struggle to keep up with the frankly ridiculous speed at which the two jounin are fighting down below.

Asuma can’t blame him. He’s already seen for himself some of what Kakashi can do, but here where there are no distractions and no holding back, it’s a totally different experience.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone keep up with Gai-san like this before,” Yuugao comments quietly.

And she’s right.

There are very few who can push Gai like this, who can make Gai’s usual bright grin turn into a line of determination slashed across his face, who can make him sweat and get even more creative with his moves to stay ahead; he’s usually the one leading the fight, the one who moves too quickly to track and hits too hard to block.

They’re not actually fighting at full speed yet, seem to be working up to it, but it’s still faster than some real time fights are like.

Asuma knows, logically, that Kakashi has probably been sparring with Gai for decades now and realistically has the upper hand in this match with a powerful Doujutsu and intimate knowledge of Gai’s techniques, even more so since Gai doesn’t know his style yet, but it doesn’t take away from the impressiveness of it all.

Because Asuma also knows that he’s sparred with Gai for decades too and still can’t win one damn taijutsu match against the Green Beast unless he resorts to using his trench knives and a few Wind jutsus.

Genma, chin resting in his palm, grumbles, “That’s Kakashi for you. Cream of the crop and outclassing all of us. Again.”

There’s no real bitterness there though. Asuma can even pick up a spark of admiration in his tone when there’d usually only been carefully concealed suspicion. They all watch and collectively wince when Kakashi gets kicked into one of the reinforced concrete walls with all the force of Gai’s unstoppable power, only to seamlessly roll to his feet without a tremble in his body to jump back into another intense round of hand-to-hand combat interspersed with kunai and shuriken being thrown with deadly accuracy.

“He did beat Gai in the Chunin Exams when we were kids. And apparently put a jounin on his ass in ten minutes flat during his Jounin Exam,” Asuma comments, whistling appreciatively when said friend lands a beautiful uppercut that lifts the Green Beast clean into the air.

“I heard about that,” Raidou says, sharp eyes never leaving the fight in front of him. “Caused quite an upset with my chunin teammates at the time.”

Asuma sometimes forgets Raidou is a few years older (and acts like a crabby old man with his calm and collected personality) and probably remembers Kakashi’s professional history better than the rest of them - as well as the resulting controversy.

“Why’s that?” Kurenai asks, red eyes curious and intent.

Raidou frowns a little. “His age, mostly, and his attitude. But also because they believed his stamina was average at best and his taijutsu was below jounin-level.”

Just half a heartbeat later and Gai is being kicked into the wall directly below them hard enough to cause a ground shattering crack! that shakes the balcony beneath their feet ominously.

Raidou blinks.

Asuma smirks. “Well, those definitely aren’t problems this time.”

“What are these walls made of?” Kurenai asks, incredulous.

“The properties of the concrete have been modified by Hokage-sama’s seals,” Yuugao answers. She would know since she was the one on guard duty when the Hokage made them, muttering to himself aloud and absentmindedly getting ink on his face and in his hair. “The seals work by strengthening one of the base properties of the material in the walls, namely Earth, and so they are twenty times stronger and near unbreakable compared to their normal state.”

Genma winces sympathetically when Gai drives a knee into Kakashi’s gut, leaving another huge crack in the opposite wall.

Unbreakable his ass.

The senbon user shakes his head. “Damn. That’s gotta hurt even more than usual then.”

Yuugao makes an appreciative noise when Kakashi opens a scroll and pulls out a strange looking weapon, completely foreign to the Land of Fire despite its resemblance to the sickle and chain Gai pulls out.

It’s not the first strange weapon they’ve seen being used in this match, but this is the first time Yuugao is commenting on it. “Hatake-san must have journeyed far outside the borders of the Five Great Nations to acquire that weapon and learn how to use it. Shoge Hooks are notoriously hard to find these days, especially well made ones like the one he’s wielding now. Hayate would’ve loved to see it being used in battle.”

Asuma doesn’t poke fun at the wistful little sigh in her voice and instead concentrates on the way Kakashi moves with the weapon, wrapping the chain with the weight around his right hand and holding the hook in his left almost like a kunai. Ambidextrous. Of course.

He’s never seen it before, but it looks deadly in Kakashi’s hands.

He’s right. Somehow, Kakashi is able to bypass Gai’s kusarigama and leave a large slash on the man's thigh, more blood steadily joining the many puddles and stains already painting the main floor. The kusarigama disappears and in a flash Gai is brandishing his well-known nunchucks, easily pushing back the silver-haired jounin with rapid swings of each metal handle. It’s like watching the waves push and pull against the shore - a steady forwards and backwards motion as one loses ground and then retakes it.

Kakashi discards the hook and brings out a short katana, much like what ANBU uses, and Asuma can easily recognize the familiar movements from his own mandatory training with a bit of a different style he hasn’t seen since...since the White Fang.

The continue like this, changing weapons and using them with terrifying efficiency, for a few more minutes until everything stops.

Asuma and the rest exchange curious looks when, without a signal from Minato, both men jump to opposite ends of the floor, weapons put away and expressions severe. The judges look more serious now instead of entertained as the air becomes harder to breath, and Asuma can feel a zinging sensation race across his skin.

Genma shoots him a wide-eyed look, senbon hanging precariously out of his mouth. “You don’t think he's really gonna…”

His answering grin is full of anticipation. “Oh, I definitely do.”

“What? What’s going on?” Raidou asks.

He ends up swallowing his next words when familiar chakra builds and builds on one side of the floor, and they all finally figure out what’s happening.

 


 

The hairs on the back of his neck stand up.

Jiraiya grins.

Well, isn’t this a treat?

“Gai’s opening one of the Eight Inner Gates,” Tsunade murmurs.

Jiraiya glances down at her, her narrowed eyes never leaving the two men in front of them, and smothers a laugh at the concern masked as concentration he can find flickering across her face.

“You’re old student has done well for himself, Chouza!” Tsume bellows to his left, arms crossed as she observes the Hatake and her friends former student. Her loyal partner Kuromaru huffs a little at the loud volume but doesn’t look like he disagrees.

Chouza gives a hearty laugh, puffing up half in jest. “Of course he has, he was one of mine after all!”

“What about you, Hyuuga? Whaddaya think?” she ribs.

Jiraiya doesn’t really expect Hiashi to answer, so it’s a pleasant if somewhat disturbing surprise that he’s proven wrong.

Hiashi is as stoic as ever, regal and cold and never losing his stiff posture or the downward tilt of his mouth even when he observes, “Hatake-san has done well so far, but against Gai-san and the Gate of Opening, the match may be coming to a close. Unless…”

Jiraiya smirks when they all fall silent in the wake of Gai opening the first Inner Gate completely, and he himself is a little impressed despite seeing it a handful of times before. He sometimes forgets just how much raw power is unleashed with just one Gate, and on top of Gai’s already monstrous strength.

He knows he wouldn’t want to fight the younger man after opening more than five.

Tsume whistles lowly, “Hatake’s gonna get creamed.”

Chouza frowns. “Gai wouldn’t go overboard on an opponent if he didn’t think they could handle it.”

He sounds confident, and he’s proven right.

Like a bird answering the song of another, a different chakra builds to the same intense proportions.

“You gotta be shittin’ me,” Tsume mutters.

Jiraiya nearly busts a gut at the gobsmacked look on Minato’s face, blue eyes wider than he’s seen them in a long time, and has to run a hand through his hair to keep it from standing on end from the sudden tingle of electricity filling the air. The smell of ozone is strong, like the aftermath of a violent thunderstorm, and Jiraiya doesn’t see it dissipating anytime soon.

Now the match has truly begun.

 


 

“So you’re telling me that Hatake Kakashi, the stuck up, masked, one-eyed-wonder weirdo who turned up half-dead just a week and a half ago, managed to not only make Gai sweat in his own specialty, but tied with him when they both opened a Gate ?” Anko asks slowly, as blunt as ever with disbelief lining her face. Then it twists in envy and grudging admiration. “Shit, is he good at everything ?”

Asuma snorts a little on her left.

Obito doesn’t blame her though - it’s hard to believe even after living and training with the man, and then hearing it all from five of his friends who are powerful shinobi in their own right.

“Technically, Hokage-sama called the match when it was obvious the building was going to collapse before one beat the other,” Kurenai corrects absently, dealing out the cards Aoba brought.

It’s their typical Jounin poker night and Obito is a little surprised so many people are here. It’s very rare occurrence when they all have down time at the same time - it’s usually five or six who can show up during the once-a-month event.

Obito hasn’t seen much of Aoba or Hayate in the last two months, and Yuugao’s been busy with her own top secret missions. Genma and Raidou rarely have the same day off together, what with them being sensei’s personal guards. Ibiki only shows up one out of three poker nights (not tonight), for some reason Rin and Shizune are fighting, Gai is in the hospital, and Gai’s former student Neji hasn’t accepted any of their invitations to join, so it’s just him, Rin, Genma, Asuma, Kurenai, Anko, and Raidou at the dining room table at Genma’s house playing poker while Yuugao, Hayate, and Aoba are lounging and drinking on the two couches.

It’s just hours after the match had finally been called by Minato, apparently ending with both Kakashi and Gai releasing the Gate of Opening and slumping to the ground where they stood in pained heaps of bruises and bloody cuts and broken bones. Tsunade had been quick to give them emergency first aid while still on the destroyed floor of the arena, muttering under her breath about idiots who didn’t know their limits while the Clan Heads had quietly traded words amongst each other.

(Gai had grinned, wide and bloody, and had given Kakashi a thumbs up. “A Youthful Match, My Eternal Rival.”

And to the audience's surprise, Kakashi had smiled, visible even under his mask with blood running down one closed eye, and had given him a thumbs up in return.)

“It was ridiculous , ” Raidou says with a sigh. “The pressure alone made the Civilian Council members nearly faint so they had to be escorted from the Forest of Death.”

“Don’t forget how the tower nearly crumbled from Gai’s first kick,” Kurenai adds. “The shockwaves from those two fighting and beating each other into the ground tore up the foundation of the building and nearly caused the whole place to fall down on top of us. Thank the Spirits for Hokage-sama’s seals.”

“Here, here,” Genma mutters, raising his drink before taking a sip.

Even Yuugao, who is not easily impressed and always somehow has that stern air of a scolding librarian about her despite being the youngest among them, nods earnestly, eyes still glittering after supposedly seeing at least seven weapons she’s never even seen before being used in combat right in front of her. Obito knows the girl has a thing for weapons, anyone dating Hayate has to, but he doesn’t think it warrants the spark of hero-worship that has been twinkling in her eye since she, Genma, Raidou, Kurenai, and Asuma began filling them all in on what happened during the match.

“Well, that makes three people in the village who can definitely open the Gates,” Aoba sighs.

“So who won the pot?” Genma asks.

Raidou grumbles, “Ibiki.”

Genma’s fist hits the table. “That bastard totally had an in! He did Kakashi’s evaluation days before the match!”

“And Tsunade-shishou,” Rin adds distractedly, taking another card.

She blinks when suddenly every pair of eyes go to her.

“...what?”

“That old hag...won the pot?” Obito chokes out. Why didn’t he hear about this earlier?

Then again, he lost his bet that sensei would end the fight as soon as a bone broke, so it’s not like he had a lot of interest in anyone else's’ winnings. But Tsunade, the Legendary Gambler, actually winning? It was a sure sign of the apocalypse.

Rin scowls at him. “Shizune’s the bookkeeper, and she says shishou put down a couple hundred ryo on one of them opening a Gate.”

Obito is pretty sure he’s the only one who catches the near imperceptible venom that laces Rin’s words but he doesn’t say anything.

He does have survival instincts, after all.

“Pretty sure she was banking on Gai getting overexcited,” Asuma gruffly accuses.

“Great, so we’re all basically broke and doomed because your undead teammate can kick ass,” Raidou groans.

Obito does the only adult thing available to him: he sticks his tongue out and laughs.

A sudden glint enters the Snake Mistress’s eye, sending alarms blaring through Obito’s mind. She sounds innocent when she asks, “Can he cook too?”

Obito shoots her a suspicious look. “Yeah. He’s a health freak though so everything he makes is, like, super healthy. And he doesn’t let junk food in the house. But it all tastes really good so I don’t mind.” He flushes and stammers out, “Don’t tell him I said that or he won’t let me live it down!”

Rin nods in agreement, no stranger to the little team meals they share at his place when Kushina or Minato are busy.

Anko cackles and leans forward to coo mockingly at him, “Aww, Obi-chan’s got a hot little housewife that makes him dinner every night instead of take-out. No wonder why you’ve lost some chub.”

“Excuse me?!” he splutters indignantly, eyes going to his abdomen - which is rock solid , thank you very much.

Rin laughs at his scandalized look of horror. “Don’t listen to her Obito, she’s just teasing.”

“He got an apron?” Asuma asks, smirking around his cigarette.

Obito narrows his eyes at Anko’s sudden, perverse expression and chokes on his drink when she purrs, “Is that all he wears?” Genma’s face scrunches in distaste with Obito seconding the motion, and he whimpers, horrified, when she mournfully sighs, “Man, he grew up good. I’d tap that so hard, but it looks like he only gives a damn about you two and Hokage-sama. That’s why one of you should do it, for the greater good and all that.”

“Anko!” Kurenai says admonishingly, but her eyes glimmer with mischief. This doesn’t bode well for Obito’s sanity. “What they do in their own time is no one’s business but theirs. Isn’t that right Rin?”

Said medic’s cheeks flare as red as Obito’s neck and face. “Kurenai!”

Aoba groans into his beer, “Can we please not talk about Hatake’s sex appeal?”

“I second that,” Genma mutters, throwing a few chips into the center of the table.

“Why aren’t Gai and Kakashi-san here, anyway?” Hayate asks after a coughing fit, Yuugao rubbing his arm soothingly beside him.  

Rin sighs, placing another few chips in the pile. “Minato-sensei wanted to talk to Kakashi about something with Jiraiya-sama, and shishou said she’d take care of him until Obito and I pick him up and take him back to their apartment. I’m going to be doing overnight observation-” she ignores Anko’s eyebrow waggle, “since the last time he was in the hospital...well, you all know how that went.” Aoba snickers. “Opening a Gate really took it out of him and his body isn’t as durable as Gai’s - who is staying in the hospital overnight - so she’s making sure he didn’t permanently damage something.”

“I just thought he was being a stuck up dick like when we were kids,” Anko mutters.

Obito feels a little flare of irritation at that.

“Opening even one gate could kill a regular man,” Aoba says, and it’s not hard to pick up on the respect in his tone, “but fighting Gai after opening a Gate is just suicidal in normal circumstances. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was bedridden for a week, with or without you and Tsunade-sama treating him.”

Rin smiles a little at the praise.

The snake mistress grins. “Aw, does wittle Ao-chan have a cwush on Kakashi too?”

Genma chuckles. “Please, you’re the one who’s tried to get in his pants like, what, a dozen times already?”

Obito makes a face at that because ew , can people stop making passes at his teammate?

Anko huffs and crosses her arms. “It was only eight times and four of them were a joke. Sort of. Besides, some men are just intimidated by sexual confidence.” She grins as she unzips her jacket to show off more of her ample, fishnet covered chest, but everyone’s seen so much more on so many occasions, no one bats an eye. She pouts and crosses her arms. “Che. You guys suck.”

Anyway ,” Genma sighs and he turns to look at the only Sharingan user in the room, “what’s he like, personality-wise? Cause aside from what we’ve seen and heard so far, all I’m picturing is the cold, broody Kakashi who used to brush us off whenever we invited him out for stuff.”

Obito relaxes in his seat, clicking his tongue irritably at his shitty hand of cards and at the question because it’s embarrassing to say he doesn’t really know.

Out of all of them, barring Gai, Obito is supposed to be the one closest to Kakashi especially now that he’s living with him, but all he’s been able to learn about his teammate and the person who changed his life so drastically is that Kakashi has at least five ninken when before he only had Pakkun and that he has a darkly funny sense of humor if he’s in the right mood. And the few things he did know before- before the Kannabi Bridge are probably now wrong because the man is so different than the apathetic preteen Obito had been rivals with.

Maybe he’s been wrong the whole time.

He answers honestly. “I don’t know, it’s been like twenty years, you know? I guess not much really changed.” Except everything has. “He’s kind of a neat freak, he knows a lot of random facts, he doesn’t like being in crowded places. I guess the biggest thing is he’s late for everything. Even keeps Minato-sensei waiting like a half hour.”

Rin sighs as if mourning her teammates old habits of always being early, “It’s like dealing with teenage-Obito again.” She shoots him a glare that makes him shrink in his seat. “You two are bad influences on each other. Don’t think I didn’t know you were late for three of your classes last week because of him.”

Genma grins around his senbon. “You’re shitting me.”

Ah, that’s right. The former ANBU member wouldn’t know because he’s been out of the village for the majority of the time that Kakashi has been roaming around and causing minor fits of chaos.

“He likes to mess with people too, especially the ANBU detail they still have on him,” Asuma adds with a wide grin.

Aoba nods. “I’ve seen it. Poor rookies. They don’t deserve half the things Hatake throws at ‘em.”

The less said about the host springs incident, the better.

Hayate muses, “Gai started challenging while they were in the Academy right? I wonder if they’re going to start that again.”

“C’mon, of course they are! It’s Gai after all.”

“What if Kakashi-san isn’t interested?”

“It’s Gai.

“Right.”

“I can already tell this will go about as well as that ‘congrats on becoming a jounin’ party Rin tried to keep a secret.”

“Hey! It would’ve stayed secret if Aoba over there wasn’t such a blabber-mouth-”

“-ex cuse me-”

“-yeah, wasn’t just Aoba! Kakashi was such a spoilsport.”

“Still is.”

“Right? Still the same as always. Never wants to hang out or even talk, like he’s better than us!”

“-nnoying as hell. Is it really so hard to say ‘hi’?”

Obito, uncharacteristically tense and quiet up to this point, doesn’t look at any of them when he bites out, “Lay off him, guys.”

Everyone but Asuma, Kurenai, and Rin look surprised at his interruption. In fact, they look just as irritated.

Obito makes sure his glare reaches each of the half-drunk shit-talkers. “Yeah, he was a jerk when we were kids, and he’s still kind of a jerk now, but everyone important to him is basically dead. How would you feel if suddenly everyone you gave a damn about started walking around and you think everything would be better if you were the one in the ground instead? Would you just wanna say ‘hi’ while everyone looks and stares at you like you don’t belong? Like a ghost who shouldn’t have come back?”

That quiets all of them.

Obito knows they didn’t mean any harm, but sometimes their backhanded, drunken humor went too far - especially Genma and Anko, who are known for sometimes taking things too far, which only encourages the others

“I’m going to the bathroom,” he says, pushing away from the table with a bit more force than necessary. It isn’t until he looks into the mirror that he realizes his Sharingan is active, eyes an angry, demonic red and spinning wildly in response to his emotions.

Obito doesn’t know if it’s guilt or time or perspective or a mix of all three, but talking about the past stirs up memories of their childhood rivalry, and even twenty years later, they feel so petty.

If he thinks back, Kakashi had only been himself the entire time they’d been schoolmates then teammates. He was cold and distant to everyone , called out people he thought were trying to skate by while wearing the Konoha headband. And even then, he’d never been malicious or cruel, only painfully blunt.

He had only ever risen to the bait when Obito pushed because Obito felt like he needed to be validated, whether by spars that put him in Rin’s care or words that left stinging wounds that lasted far longer than any physical injury. Kakashi was a genius - everything he did came naturally to him, whereas Obito had to struggle and fight to attain any skill. It makes him ashamed to think back on how he acted - he’d been too emotional, he knows that now, and those insecurities and complexes as a child had manifested in a bitter, biting rivalry with the most successful person in their age group because he’d been jealous and selfish.

He wonders what they could’ve been if they’d just learned to understand each other.

He returns and is surprised to find Gai sitting at the poker table, bandages wrapped around his head and hands and Rin fluttering around him like an angry hummingbird. He ignores Genma who looks like he’s rubbing away a headache or how Hayate and Aoba squirm under Yuugao’s pointed glare. Even Anko looks the slightest bit sheepish and apologetic when she pouts at Kurenai for forgiveness.

“Gai! What’re you doing here? Aren’t you supposed to be at the hospital?” he asks, bewildered.

Gai shoots him a bright, sparkling grin.

Obito has to refrain from physically shielding his eyes.

“Obito my Good Friend! Yes, I was just telling Rin our most Esteemed Medic that Shizune-san has cleared me for Light Duty!”

If Obito wasn’t already convinced Gai is a monster then this would definitely do it. “That’s...great?”

They continue to drink and play, the mood lightening with Gai’s boisterous laughter and cheery disposition, listening with amusement as Gai regales them with his version of his most youthful match with Kakashi, until he reaches for a cup of sake and no one is fast enough to stop him.

Rin looks at him, wide-eyed, and says, “This would be a good time to go get Kakashi.”

Obito can’t agree fast enough.

Shouts and breaking glass are the last things they hear as they escape Hurricane Gai.

 


 

“I’m fine, sensei,” Kakashi sighs for the umpteenth time.

He gets another two pillows and three blankets piled on top of him for his efforts.

Kushina watches her fretting husband with indulgent amusement. “Aw, let him hover Kakashi-kun. If it makes you feel better, I haven’t seen him like this since Naruto started losing his baby teeth.”

It doesn’t.

Jiraiya, the bastard, hasn’t stopped grinning and taking pictures since they all reached sensei’s apartment.

“Why did you think opening a Gate was necessary?” Minato asks for the third time, but again, it’s rhetorical as he rushes away to find more blankets.

It saves Kakashi from having to explain himself.

After all, “incentive” is not exactly what his sensei might want to hear.

Tsunade hasn’t said a word about it, only clicking her tongue when she has to move another carefully placed pillow in order to finish her examination. “Aside from hairline fractures along both arms and legs, minor ligament tears in your knees and hands, and a minor concussion, you look fine overall. I healed the breaks in your fingers and sped up the natural healing in the rest of your body, but I recommend at least two days of bed rest and a week of light activity.”

Recommend is said with enough venom to let Kakashi know it is not voluntary.

“I understand, Tsunade-hime,” he says a little meekly, adjusting the ice on his left knee where his anterior cruciate ligament smarts from a particularly vicious kick.

Tsunade huffs at him, obviously not believing a word, and gets up to accept a cup of tea from Kushina.

“Speaking of Naruto, where is the little loudmouth?” Tsunade asks.

“Bandits,” Jiraiya supplies. “Should be home in a few days if the little Yamanaka heiress doesn’t kill him first.”

Kushina claps excitedly. “Yosh! I’ll whip up a feast! It’s been four months since we’ve seen him!”

Minato smiles at his wife's enthusiasm but it has a tinge of sadness in it. “I’d love to be here when he comes home, but I might not-”

The redhead wilts a little in understanding but then draws up with raised shoulders, confrontational while something angry colors her expression. “You’re going to be working? Again?!”

Kakashi feels suddenly extremely awkward sitting on his sensei’s couch, helplessly wrapped in a dozen blankets between husband and wife while the two Sannin mysteriously disappear into the kitchen.

Traitors, Kakashi thinks viciously.

“You know I want to be here when ke comes home!”

Kushina looks really upset now - the kind that may lead to things breaking.

A cold sweat breaks out on the back of Kakashi’s neck; he really hopes he’s not one of them.

Fortunately for him, not so much for sensei, she starts shouting instead, “You promised you’d be home this time, Minato! This is the third time in a row Naruto’s come home from a long trip without both of us there to greet him!”

Minato just looks resigned. “I know, Kushina, but-”

“No buts! You have to be home by dinner at least! He probably won't be back until late anyway.”

“I’ll see what I can do - it depends on the Council and I have a meeting with my advisors-”

“One of advisors is in the other room, Minato! Meet with them now, for all I care, we have the same privacy seals as in your office!”

Jiraiya tries very hard to hide behind the refrigerator.

Tsunade looks equal parts weary and incredibly unimpressed.

Kakashi is just very, very uncomfortable and wishes he would suffocate beneath all the blankets.

“Minato, just this once, can’t you tell the Council to go screw themselves?”

“Kushina-”

A knock on the door interrupts whatever Minato is about to say next and makes Kushina pause in her attempt to toss a chair at him. Jiraiya practically runs to unlock the door, Tsunade torn between aloof and relieved, and Kakashi nearly weeps at the sight of his two teammates, looking confused and concerned at the strange scene they’ve just walked into.

Obito shuffles uncomfortably under five pairs of eyes. “Uh...we’re here to take Kakashi back to my apartment?”

 

 

Chapter Text

 

(Kakashi had wondered when his suspicions would be confirmed.

Relaxing on his sensei’s couch, reading porn, definitely was not the timing he’d expected. He should know better by now.)

Kakashi looks up when the door opens, raising a hand to greet his teammate, when Obito freezes halfway in the door, face falling from a grin to staring at him in abject horror with red quickly coloring his cheeks.

A shaky finger points at him and-

“WH-WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU READING!?”

Kakashi blinks and looks down at his brand new Icha Icha novel, signed by the gleeful author himself, and a second one tucked away in his flak jacket. He hides an evil smile, instead holding up the book and innocently informing, “Oh, this? Jiraiya-sama gave me a copy when I told him I’m a fan of his books. You know, it’s quite interesting to see the differences in the plo-” he stops when Obito backs out of the room slowly with a shadowed expression and closes the door.

Then opens it.

Then closes it.

And repeats frantically several times and with increasing desperation.

Oh, this is too good.

“You know, Obito, the definition of insanity is-”

I don’t wanna hear that from you!” Obito screeches before slamming the door a final time.

Kakashi doesn’t even need to try and listen to his teammates retreat; he can hear his friend tumbling down the hallway and running out of the building like the Shinigami were at his heels without trouble.

Rin is going to hear about this, he’s sure, and she’s sure to lecture him about reading inappropriate material in public (like so many others before her) but the reactions are well worth it. It’s almost as good as Minato’s the day before - the absolute horror on his sensei's face had been priceless and was only made better when it had been followed by indignant rage as the blond left to run down his legendary perverted mentor to tear him a new one, and those expressions are forever burned into his memory thanks to the Sharingan.

The amusement is dampened when he shifts and pulls at a fresh wound.

Damn Danzo and his traps.

Breaking into his office, hidden in the same place as in his world, had been a chore when his body is still recovering from his fight with Gai even a week later.

Unsurprisingly, Danzo’s main office yielded nothing of great importance. The man is more paranoid (rightfully so) than anyone Kakashi’s ever had the displeasure of meeting and Kakashi doesn't doubt that, with his secret (stolen) Sharingan, Danzo prefers to memorize documents than keep them somewhere they could be stolen and read. Unfortunately, some shift along time has made Danzo’s training facility change places so he’ll have to spend a little extra energy poking around to find it.

It hadn’t been a complete loss, though. What he’d found there coupled with what Ryuu had shared with him this morning over breakfast had been enlightening, and he’ll never pass up an opportunity to push the uptight Yamanaka’s buttons.

He hums idly as he flips another page and hears the door unlock once more.

Kushina enters with her arms loaded with groceries, a puzzled frown on her face. “I wonder what had Obito-kun all worked up just now.” She shrugs and when she glances at the book he’s reading, she grins. “Don’t tell Minato, but chapter twenty-two is my favorite.”

She disappears into the kitchen with a wink and a cackle.

Sensei, you lucky dog.

His humorous mood evaporates when the person he is half-prepared to see walks through the door.

“Kaa-chan! Where’dya want this stuff again?” Naruto hollers, arms loaded with more grocery bags and stacked high enough to obscure his vision.

“Over here Naruto!”

The blond follows the sound of his mother's voice to the kitchen, oblivious to one surprised, grey eye watching his movements. Even as he helps his mother put things away, he’s in full view of the living room.

He looks good, is Kakashi's first thought when he shakes off the initial shock.

Healthy. Happy. Unburdened.

He looks almost exactly like the teenager Jiraiya brought back from that two and a half year training trip - one of the tallest in his group with a deeper voice and matured face, one that looks so much like Minato when he’s thinking and Kushina when he’s grinning.

Kakashi’s perfect recall lets him see the differences though, how this Naruto’s haircut looks less like he did it himself, how his clothes are quality material and actually fit him right - it’s honestly a bit jarring to see predominantly forest greens and grey-blacks and a splash of red instead of eye-watering orange. Most of all, Kakashi can tell his attitude is different; he carries himself with less practiced bravado and more easy confidence, something he’d just starting to do after coming back to the village as a hero instead of a pariah. There are no shadows of loneliness hidden in his grin, no longing in his gaze when he looks at his mother - because he was never alone, had two famous parents who loved him to death for his entire life.

Despite all this, one thing remains painfully the same.

Naruto is still the jinchuuriki.

Kakashi hadn’t been sure until he laid eyes on the blond, but the unsettling feeling of prickly demonic chakra reaching out to him - a life source, something to conquer and snuff out, to feed off of - is more than enough proof.

Naruto still houses the Kyuubi, of that Kakashi is now grimly certain, because if Minato is a glowing flame and Kushina is a bonfire, Naruto is a veritable inferno.

He doesn’t think anyone else but Minato and a few others know though, based on what he’s observed of everyone's reactions to Kushina and her status as a Konoha-bound shinobi. And if he concentrates, he can’t actually tell if Naruto is the jinchuuriki based on visual indicators or even what limited chakra-sensing he’s capable of - it’s just an instinctive, primal rush that sends alarms in his mind blaring, something no one would really experience unless they’d felt the full, terrifying might of the Kyuubi before.

The question now is how that’s possible when Kushina is so painfully alive.

“Kaa-chan, when’s dinner?”

“When your dad gets home. He should be back early today.”

“Che, that’s what he always says. I’m hungry!”

“Oi, you know how much he wants to be home! He has a lot to prepare for today. And what’s with that attitude? The first time home in months and the first thing you say to your mother is I’m hungry and not I missed you ?”

“...does ‘I missed your cooking’ count? AHHH!”

You never learn, do you Naruto?

He files away the note of disappointment and old resentment in Naruto’s words, an echo of Kushina’s voice from her and sensei’s fight three days ago.

Despite this, hearing his students voice loosens something in his chest, eases some of the tightness that had been growing increasingly uncomfortable the more he learns of his students fates, and he’s content to step back and allow the family to reunite without interruption after months of separation. If there’s one thing Naruto deserves more than anything, it’s time with his mother.

The blond is inevitably kicked out of the kitchen for goofing around instead of helping, grinning sheepishly before he stops, alert. It takes a moment but he zooms in on Kakashi faster than expected seeing as Kakashi isn’t bothering to make himself known.

“Kaa-chan!” Naruto calls, gaze never leaving Kakashi, “Why’s there a weirdo in our living room?”

“That ‘weirdo’ is right here you know,” Kakashi says, bemused.

He doesn’t acknowledge, even to himself, the prick of pain at the complete lack of familiarity in Naruto’s eyes when he looks at him. It’s completely irrational to be disappointed, even more so to feel any sort of frustration because he knows this Naruto isn’t his unpredictable, knuckleheaded student so it’s useless to feel hurt over the absence of admiration and warmth he’s so used to - he is not Naruto’s teacher here. That honor lies solely with Jiraiya, and perhaps Iruka.

Naruto squints menacingly at him before finally noticing the book in his hand and scrunching his nose in recognition. He then glares right at him with all the terrifying power of a ferocious kitten. “Who the hell’re you? One of Ero-sennin’s pervy fans? He’s not here so no autographs!”

Moot point since it’s already autographed, but whatever.

Kakashi makes sure Naruto knows how unintimidated he is. “It’s rude to ask someone else's name before giving their own.”

Naruto rears back a bit in obvious shock. “You don’t know who I am?”

“Nope. Someone related to Kushina-neesan, I’m assuming.”

The blatant lie flies right over the blond's head and a haughty look comes over the boy's face, an unfamiliar expression he’s never seen on Naruto. Something in Kakashi sinks. “I’m Namikaze Naruto! Better remember that name cause I’m gonna be the greatest shinobi ever! Even better than my dad and Ero-sennin put together!” He pauses. “Wait a minute, ‘nee-san-’”

“Naruto, you’re gonna be late!”

Naruto’s face drains of color. He has enough time to shoot Kakashi a glare and a warning, “Don’t you do anything weird when I’m gone or I’ll find you and beat you into the ground!”, and doesn’t bother saying goodbye before vaulting out the nearest window as if the devil (or an angry Sakura) were on his heels.

Before Kakashi can do more than catch his breath after the short and abrupt encounter, a new arrival interrupts his thoughts, her chakra little more than a candlelit flame in comparison to Naruto’s roaring blaze and the only reason he hadn’t sensed her earlier.

It’s familiar though, in more ways than one.

The girls face twists when she sees him and, more specifically, his book. Instead of a greeting, she says derisively, “What’re you, some kind of perv?”

Honestly, this family...

“Now, now,” he replies sagely, “no need to judge a book or man by it’s cover.”

So this is the one I sensed with Minato-sensei and Kushina-neesan when I left the hospital.

If possible, the girl grimaces even harder, ignorant to his racing thoughts. “Yeah, whatever. Weirdo. Kushina-baasan! I’m not hungry, I’m just going to be in my room!”

“Alright!”

Sharp, intelligent green eyes assess him once more with far more awareness than he expects before she turns away. Flaming red hair is the last thing he sees before the girl takes her shopping bags and makes her way down the hall, attitude in every step.

Kushina comes out of the kitchen with a small frown frown and her hands on her hips. “Do I have to teach all you brats manners?” She sighs and shakes her head. “Sorry about them. Naruto’s late for his ‘not-date’ with Hinata-chan and she...well, she doesn’t really get along with new people. Or people in general, really.”

Kakashi swallows down unless it’s Sasuke because it still stings to think about so he shakes it off and smiles. “Aah, not all Uzumaki’s can be as outgoing as you.”

Kushina smirks at him, haughty and bright. “Damn straight.”

It’s impossible to miss the wistfulness on Kushina’s face as she glances down the hallway where the girl disappeared, even harder to remember sometimes when she walks with her head held high in brazen confidence that she is one of the last from her clan, her village.

It’s no wonder she looks so happy to have a piece of her home with her.  

“She’s an orphan from Kusa,” Kushina explains, leaning against the back of one of the couches with an uncharacteristically sombre expression. “We actually found her because she participated in the chunin exam hosted here four or five years ago. Her mom had passed away before that, a healer, but I didn’t need a birth certificate or a blood test.” She grins. “I knew it right when I saw that hair and felt her chakra.”

“So you invited her to live with you and Minato-sensei,” Kakashi finishes.

It makes sense; if the girl had no family, no strong ties with Kusa, then it would only make relations between the nations that much smoother - a former Kusa-nin living in the home of the Hokage is as good as an arranged marriage in this case. Even better that she’s blood-related to the Hokage’s wife.

Kushina nods, absentmindedly toying with her apron. “More or less. We offered to adopt her, but all she wanted was for her name to be recognized as an Uzumaki, officially. Naruto had no problems having someone else in the house. They’re like siblings when they’re in the same room for more than five minutes.” With Kushina and Naruto’s last names now Namikaze, it makes her the last Uzumaki, and he can’t help but think of his student, practically the last of both. “So she lives with us part time. That’s actually why you haven’t seen her, she’s been out and about in the village doing whatever kids do these days and has her own apartment elsewhere.”

A bit unorthodox, but it’s not like he can talk. “I didn’t see a headband,” he remarks offhandedly.

Or any pictures, but the girl hardly struck him as the sentimental type (or the type to leave evidence).

Kushina shrugs but there’s pride glowing in her smile. “She’s a chunin, make no mistake. Got it about two years ago with the rest of Naruto’s class. She doesn’t really go out on many missions though, only once in awhile. She spends most of her time working in a few biological research facilities on the other side of town.” She jumps to her feet. “Well, I’m making curry! Gotta get you filled up with good food to recover faster!”

He smiles at her enthusiasm, but before she can get lost in her cooking, Kakashi says more than asks, “You didn’t tell me her name.”

He already knows, but the confirmation rings like a war drum in his head.

“Karin. Uzumaki Karin.”

 


 

Since it’s been happening so often, Kakashi doesn’t bat an eye when Asuma joins him while he walks the semi-busy streets of Konoha, a different novel besides Icha Icha in front of his face as he navigates the bustling market. He hadn’t been able to stay in the apartment after Naruto or Karin’s arrival, skin itching from phantom bite marks that have never appeared on his skin, but this walking around doesn’t seem to be helping either since he can’t really focus on the story in front of him.

And as usual, Asuma pulls out a cigarette smelling of unfamiliar burning tobacco and after a while of just walking in companionable silence, is the first to speak. “So, when’s your match with Obito?”

“I have no idea what you mean.”

Asuma snorts. “Cut the shit Kakashi. We both know Hokage-sama’s gonna pick Obito to be your Sharingan proctor. He’s the only Uchiha willing to go within a hundred yards of you and he’s better at using it than most of his clan, though his genjutsu could use some work.”

Kakashi considers denying it just for fun but decides it’s not worth it. “Well, you didn’t hear it from me.”

“So? When is it?”

“Planning on more betting pools?” Kakashi asks before shrugging. “Sensei says the Clan Heads have been fairly busy lately so probably not for another week. That’s when Obito gets back from his next mission.”

Asuma whistles and Kakashi tries not to wince at the too-sharp sound. “And you’re not going stir-crazy being in the village for so long? You’ve been here, what, a month?”

“More or less.”

Kakashi can be patient, but even his is thinning at this point. He’s more than grateful for being able to spend time with the people he’s missed most, has put in more effort in being social because he’s aware enough to realize these people have missed him as well, but there’s only so much planning and subterfuge and socializing that he can do in one period of time before he goes crazy. He doesn’t think he’s spent this much time inside the village once since he was put in that Tsukuyomi-induced coma, and while the constant hum of the city is normally a comfort, now it’s an unpleasant buzz that crowds his thoughts.

Semi-consistent sparring with his friends has helped and learning seals from Kushina is mentally taxing enough to keep his mind from wandering afterwards, but he misses being out in the woods, running through the trees and feeling adrenaline pump through his veins during a difficult mission.

Thankfully, his teacher still knows him well. “Good thing I’m leaving soon. Minato-sensei says that another part of my examination is testing my teamwork, so I’ll be leaving on a B-rank with two chunin and a jounin leader in a few days.”

Asuma’s little smirk is telling. “Heard about that. Genma’s excited to be your team leader.”

“I’m sure he is,” Kakashi dryly responds. “I wonder how Kotetsu and Izumo are going to take the news.”

The Sarutobi shakes his head. “Don’t scar them, alright? They’re good guys who deal with crazy on a daily basis already, they don’t need your brand of it.”

“I don’t promise anything.”

Kakashi eyes a nearby potted plant distrustfully, wondering if he’s going crazy or if the thorns on the nearby rose bed look sharper than they are. Something prodding at the back of his mind suddenly turns into an intense pounding and it hits him all at once and he doesn’t imagine the slightly too feminine smirk pulling up the corner of Asuma’s lips as they detour to an empty side street.

He flares his chakra to test it and doesn’t pull up his headband. “Maa, that was pretty good Kurenai. Had me going for a while there.”

Asuma ripples and melts away to reveal his red-eyed friend. “Not bad yourself Kakashi. Asuma didn’t pick up on it for an extra half day. Gai...well, it goes without saying.”

Kakashi nods understandingly, vaguely amused. “So? Is this the exam? No Clan Heads observing?”

Kurenai folds her arms across her chest, thorny vines creeping up the walls and threatening but beautiful flowers flourishing at her feet. Even in the dank alleyway with trashcans in the backdrop, the sun seems to skate around on her, making her intense crimson eyes shine ominously, and Kakashi can see a bit of what Asuma sees when he looks at his wife. Like many women in his life, Kurenai can be as powerful and devastating as a natural disaster.

“Oh come now, you honestly thought we were going to stand in the middle of an arena and just stare at each other? Besides, genjutsu is about subtlety and manipulation, not a showy brawl that can be watched by just anyone.”

Kakashi thinks that’s kind of a lie since he knows Kurenai is (one of the only ones without a doujutsu) able to use genjutsu effectively in battle, that even Uchiha hesitate to face her because she can tear minds a part with her horrific illusions as easily as she can dismantle their bodies with a kunai. She might be letting him off incredibly easy but he’s not going to complain especially with his old and new injuries still twinging.

She smiles like she can read his mind and it looks bloodthirsty, “So what gave it away?”

Kakashi shrugs one shoulder, pockets his book because he doesn’t want it to get damaged just in case. “I don’t know if you remember, but my senses are fairly sharp - sharper than Kiba’s, at any rate. The whistle was a little high and Asuma just switched to a different cigarette brand. It’s headier than the one in your illusion. I didn’t catch the fact that you switched my book until I noticed people not giving me dirty looks.”

Kurenai huffs. “I wasn’t going to be seen with you reading that.”

Kakashi is pretty sure the Kurenai in his world used to do that too until it became strange for him to not read it in public. “And don’t think I missed the jab at Obito’s genjutsu skills, even though it’s true. I picked up on the Hyuuga and the Uchiha you sent to watch my reactions about an hour ago, so I’m guessing you’ve been following me for at least an two hours now, even if I didn’t consciously realize it until a few minutes ago.”

He doesn’t add the general air of unease and awareness he feels when the air around him is charged with enough chakra to make him wary. He knows Kurenai will worry because it’s a sign of hyper-vigilance, something common to only shinobi who return from long missions outside of the village and a sensation he doesn’t really have a reason to experience but does on a deep, instinctive level.

Kurenai scrutinizes him for a long moment before sighing, a rueful smile on her face. “Well, can’t say I’m surprised. Nice work, I’ll write up my report and hand it in to Hokage-sama later.”

Kakashi blinks in mild shock at how simple it is but doesn’t open his mouth to ask something stupid like “that’s it?” like he knows Naruto would do. He’s not about to look a gift horse in the mouth, but he does have a suspicion because he knows he’s good, but in genjutsu, Kurenai is much, much better. “How long have you really been following me?”

Kurenai looks a little surprised at that before giving him an assessing look and a small smirk. “Since you left Kushina-san’s apartment seven hours ago. See you later, Kakashi.”

 


 

“So you got my message?”

“It was fairly concise,” Itachi replies evenly.

Aside from the hints the man had left -

(referencing a classified mission, pointing out that one of his rarest plants could only really be found in the Valley of Clouds and Lightning where that man trains, leaving eight of the twelve kunai his trap had hurled at him)

- the ridiculous little note tied to a disgruntled looking pug wearing Hatake’s symbol stating a date and place to meet was a dead giveaway.

He could’ve done without the copy of Icha Icha though.

Hatake gives him what he assumes is a beaming smile and gestures to the chair in front of him. “Then have a seat! We have a lot to discuss, as you can imagine.”

“Like how you knew I went to Lightning Country specifically to seek out the Hachibi Jinchuriki?” Itachi replies, fluidly settling into the chair with an air of chilly civility.

“Among other things.”

There’s no point in talking in circles like they’d done initially - he doesn’t miss the shimmering seals placed everywhere, high level privacy seals that look too good to come from anyone but a prodigal master (and for all that Hatake is a genius, no one can match up to the Yondaime in fuuinjutsu). “I see even Hokage-sama is not immune to your snooping.”

Hatake nods shamelessly. “Guilty as charged.

“What do you want to know?” Itachi asks, the slightest bit curious. It has been a long time since someone has put so much effort into getting him out in the open, longer still since an enigma of Hatake’s caliber has placed itself in front of him.

“What are you willing to tell me?” Hatake counters.

Itachi takes a sip of his tea, made too sweet for most but perfect for him. So the man knows him in a different life. “I did not imagine you to be one to play games, Hatake-san.”

“Normally you’d be right, but I find that games are the only way I’m able to get the answers I need in this world.”

That in itself is telling. With Hatake’s capabilities, both from what Itachi has read in outdated files and observed during and outside of the taijutsu match, it would not be a surprise if he holds high status in Konoha and the trust of the higher echelon. Being here where he is little more than a walking corpse, it is easy to see why Hatake is going to small extremes to get the information he wants.

“You start.”

“I know Naruto is the Kyuubi Jinchuuriki,” he says easily, as if it isn’t one of the most guarded secrets of Konoha.

Itachi can’t control the jerk of surprise at that.

No one speaks so easily of one of the village’s most terrifying secrets, and Itachi reminds himself to stay guarded and wary. He has to be in the presence of this ghost.

Hatake eye-smiles at him. “Don’t worry, no one but a select few know Kushina is no longer the container. I’ve known for a while.” Hours, weeks, years? In this world or another? “And I also know who the eight other containers are - or used to be. Four left, right?”

“So you are aware of them,” Itachi intones evenly, ignoring the rhetorical question.

His eyes catch the subtle sign Hatake makes with one hand.

Red dawn.

“Unfortunately. There are some I don’t know of yet, but it looks like Kisame, Deidara, and Sasori have not made any attempts to hide their identities. They’re a tricky bunch - especially their more talented members,” Hatake says, and a strange look passes over his face in a split second before it clears.

Itachi has never been an expert in reading people, not like the Yamanaka’s, but he can’t help but feel like he’s being assessed.

“Killer Bee is doing well, I presume?” Hatake asks, already aware of the answer.

“He is.” He takes a chance. “However, Raikage-sama believes they are not a threat and is willing to let Killer Bee-san travel as he wishes within Kumo despite Hokage-sama’s warnings. He is aware that they are not simply a mercenary group mostly employed by the Tsuchikage.”

He cannot presume to know what the Raikage knows or speculate how he rules his village and his people, but he doesn’t understand why A would put his own brother in danger.

Hatake watches him closely, another unidentifiable expression flickering across his masked face. “And you were there...to convince the Raikage of their threat level.”

Itachi nods once. “For the most part. Two tailed beasts have been captured in the last two years alone, and Hokage-sama worries for his son but Raikage-sama sees no true threat. Hokage-sama also asked me to pass along another offer of peace and a tentative alliance with Kumokagure, but Raikage-sama refused, citing it to be an act of cowardice.” He takes another sip of his tea, tasting bitter just from the memory of enduring the man’s obvious dislike of Namikaze Minato. “He likened the action to that of a group of herbivorous animals crowding together to appear much more daunting.”

Hatake sighs, “I’m not surprised. He’s always been every bit as stubborn as Oonoki-sama, and twice as proud.”

To Itachi’s private horror, his lips twitch in amusement.

“So, which tailed beasts still roam free?” the masked man asks.

Itachi should feel like he’s betraying his Hokage and his village by telling this man highly classified information, but the guilt accompanying that thought is absent. Then again, he hasn’t really felt anything in a long time. “The Ichibi, Nibi, Hachibi, and Kyuubi are still currently safe, but they’ve been collecting the tailed beasts at a faster rate. I predict that the Nibi will be the next to be hunted.”

Hatake nods his assent. “The student of the Raikage’s brother is certainly easier than the Yondaime Kazekage’s son, depending on how they’re both treated.”

“Bee is a revered figure and that respect extends to his pupils. As far as I understand, the Kazekage sees his son as an asset to the village, nothing more and nothing less. Hokage-sama has had disagreements with him about the treatment of his son but the alliance is still new and fragile at best so he hasn’t convinced the man a new, better seal on his son would only benefit Suna.”

It’s brief, but Itachi catches the way Hatake’s hand stills before picking up his own cup of tea. His tone is measured when he asks, “And has that treatment changed at all in the last few years?”

Itachi taps his teacup twice in thought, dredging up old memories. “The mindset of Sunagakure is still the same, that the Ichibi Jinchuriki is a monster, according to our reports, but his condition is improving. As he gets older he seems to be able to control the Ichibi marginally better than in his childhood. Naruto-kun’s influence and friendship seems to have a positive effect and now that the Yondaime Kazekage is no longer under great economic duress, his militant rule has loosened somewhat.”

Some of the tension in Hatake’s frame loosens at that, but there’s still an air of caution around him. “Then he will be protected when the Akatsuki come for him.”

Itachi’s mouth is a grim slash. “As long as the Kazekage believes his son is a greater asset to the village that the dozens of shinobi who will die protecting him. Hokage-sama has already offered aid, but as much as the Kazekage proclaims to love his village, he is stubborn.”

“They all are, in their own ways. We’ll have to trust Gaara is in safe hands, and as long as Yugito stays with Bee near Kumo, then she should be fine for the time being.”

There’s nothing more to say on the topic that won’t be repeated later when Hatake decides to finally show all his cards to everyone involved, so Itachi decides to ask, “This is not the only reason you’ve asked me here, is it?”

“You would be right.” Hatake leans back in his seat with a faux-weary sigh. “Minato-sensei asked me to rejoin ANBU, strictly under mentorship conditions.” That isn’t surprising. “But being a teacher is so much work and I don’t know the recruits well enough to train them effectively…and I don’t have the time or dedication to show them everything I know during my probationary status, meanwhile I’m still catching up on current events and the like…”

Itachi narrows his eyes at all the overdramatic lies spilling from Hatake’s mouth, detecting only half-truths among the bullshit. “No.”

Itachi wants to sigh because if he isn’t mistaken, Hatake is actually pouting at him.

“I’m retired, Hatake-san. My time as a shinobi is over,” the Uchiha asserts.

Now Hatake is giving him the look. “I know plenty of retired shinobi, Uchiha-kun, but very few truly retire. We will be soldiers to the bitter end.”

It’s said almost playfully, but the truth rings in Itachi’s ears. They both know he never really retired in the first place, not in name or in action. “I’m not doing your teaching duties for you.”

“No, of course not! I’ve already introduced myself to most of the active members-”

Itachi knows that ‘introduced’ actually means ‘mentally scarred’.

“-but I do need an assistant.”

Hatake is unflappable under Itachi’s flat stare as he dubiously repeats, “An assistant.”

“Or a co-captain! I can share. We were a team once, you know. I used to be your senpai, actually, until you got promoted.” Hatake sighs, exaggeratedly fond. “Good times. You were such a good kohai.”

It’s a slightly horrifying thought, but it explains how Hatake seems to know him so well.

Hatake draws up, serious now, and Itachi nearly does the same instinctively. “Jokes aside, I do need your help. You’ve been a great asset to Minato-sensei and the Sannin, but I think it’s time you were given a more active role. Things are changing, Uchiha-kun, in and out of the village, and I need reliable eyes in as many places as I can get them. Besides, I think I have a protege that will work rather well with you; a special side project, if you will.”

Itachi has to admit, it’s been a long time since he’s done anything worthwhile outside of the Hokage and the Sannin’s requests, but he knows Hatake has an ulterior motive and Itachi is tired of secrets and subterfuge.

Besides, seeing his old porcelain mask still opens old wounds.

He delicately places the teacup back on the table and holds Hatake’s steady gaze. “I decline.”

Hatake doesn’t look surprised or even all that worried.

In fact, Itachi feels like he should be the one worried when all Hatake says is, “We’ll see.”

 


 

Rin doesn’t move when Kakashi takes a seat on the same branch as her to watch Kurenai and Gai’s teams spar but she does straighten when it’s obvious he isn’t here to just observe. “Shouldn’t you be prepping for your mission tomorrow?”

“Maa, maybe later,” Kakashi dismisses with a wave. “Did you ever hear of a girl named Haruno Sakura?”

That makes her draw up in surprise. “Haruno Sakura?” The name is familiar. It takes a moment and rifling through years of memories, but Rin snaps her fingers when she remembers. “Oh! Sakura-chan! I remember her - she was Naruto-kun's friend when they were really young.” She shakes her head incredulously. “Wow, I haven’t heard that name in...seven years or so.”

Kakashi’s expression is just as bored as ever when she turns a suspicious eye on him.

She leans closer with a little scowl and inquires, “Question is how you know that name and why that’s important?” She doesn’t remember him ever mentioning her, even on that first day he was awake.

“Humor me,” Kakashi shoots back dryly.

She glowers at him but knows she’s not going to get an answer until she goes first. “Fine. Hah, let’s see...she joined the Academy at the same time as Naruto-kun so they ended up in the same graduating class.” She smothers a laugh, “I remember because he came home after his first day of class hollering at the top of his lungs “Kaa-chan! Kaa-chan! There’s a girl at school with pretty hair like you!” It was the cutest thing ever.”

She doesn’t miss the strange look that passes over her teammates face, something like a mix of melancholy and amusement. “Sounds like something he would do.”

“Yeah.” It’s a strange thing for him to say since she doesn’t remember Kakashi ever mentioning their sensei’s son beyond the short reassurance that he’s doing well in his world, nothing to indicate a closer relationship like she suspects. “At the time, Sasuke-kun had already jumped a grade in the Academy - not surprising with an older brother like Itachi-kun, right? But even though Naruto-kun was pretty down about not being able to advance with him, he and Naruto-kun were still best friends and rivals.

“Anyway,” she shakes her head, “it was a surprise when Naruto-kun brought Sakura-chan along...Sasuke-kun actually tolerated her. He got along well enough with the other clan kids like Shino-kun and Shikamaru-kun, but he never really became friends with anyone but Naruto-kun, you know? So it was strange when he actually let Sakura-chan hang around him and Naruto. She rounded those two out pretty well - her academic scores were higher than either of them, she kept a level head in a heated situation, and her chakra control was perfect. ” She sighs a little wistfully. “I actually thought about taking her on as an apprentice once she graduated after Iruka-sensei told me about how well she did after their first in-class medic drill. Scouted her out and everything.”

“High praise from one of Tsunade-hime’s students,” Kakashi teases, a strange, knowing inflection in his tone.

Rin blushes at the indirect praise.

“Those three reminded me of us,” she says, and it hurts a little to admit it out loud. Obito doesn’t see it, but that’s probably because he doesn’t want to be compared to Naruto no matter how many similarities there are. After what happened to Sasuke, Minato didn’t want to see it either. “Of course, Naruto-kun wasn’t dead last in his class, Sasuke-kun liked to pretend they weren’t friends even when he threw jealous temper tantrums when Naruto-kun paid more attention to his other friends, and Sakura-chan had way more potential than I did at her age despite her shyness. But I think...after dealing with those two all the time, I think Sakura-chan would’ve toughened up a bit.”

She blinks when she feels Kakashi nudge her out of the way of an incoming shuriken.

She doesn’t have to guess who threw it when Kiba practically whimpers and dives behind Shino despite being over a hundred feet away. She gives him a warning glare, pointing at her own leg as a reminder of his previous injury, and he just cowers even farther behind his unimpressed teammate.

“What happened her third year?” Kakashi prompts, not looking at her.

The year she dropped out.

Something ominous gnaws at her, especially when Kakashi doesn’t take his eyes off of the training teenagers despite not paying a bit of attention to any of them.

“Well,” Rin continues, less reminiscent and more somber, “Sasuke-kun had just jumped another grade because of his mastery over his clan's Great Fireball technique and was slated to graduate two years early at ten - Minato-sensei’s minimum age requirement. Itachi-kun, against his father’s orders, had taken Sasuke out of the village for a congratulatory trip after school ended since Sasuke-kun had always wanted to explore with just his brother. Naruto-kun was jealous so Jiraiya-sama took him out to Otafuku Gai for a little trip too. During that week...well, Sakura-chan’s parents died.”

His voice is deceptively void of anything when he asks, “What happened?”

Rin bites her lip. “...I think they were both on the same mission. I don’t remember the details, but I do remember Minato-sensei trying to console Naruto-kun because Sakura-chan had dropped out of the Academy and stopped coming around after that.”

Those had been dark days - it was like Naruto had taken her leaving his life as a personal loss (which it was for a little eight year old boy with two best friends; she understands that loss too well).

Kakashi...doesn’t seem fazed by the information, at least not outwardly.

She doesn’t get mad or indignant because apathy on Kakashi is like happiness for Obito and optimism for Minato - a cloak that keeps him safe from the outside world. She’s noticed that, how sometimes she and Obito and even sensei can read him so easily, but other times (like now) he’s a blank page. Is it because he’s so good at hiding what he’s feeling or does he feel nothing at all for a girl he’s probably never known?

“Is that why he doesn’t seem to get along with his father?” he asks.

Rin winces. “You know about that, huh?”

“Kind of hard to miss,” he replies dryly.

She remembers hearing from Obito about how Kakashi had basically sprinted back to their apartment after Minato got home from the office the day Naruto came back because of how awkward and tense it was.

The medic hangs her head a little, already tired from the idea of discussing it.

For her and Obito and anyone privy to Minato’s private life, it’s a decade-long issue that has no real resolution.

“Well, sensei and Naruto were really close when he was a kid. Always had him in the Hokage’s office while he was doing paperwork and - you can tell, right? Minato-sensei was born to be a dad. Kushina-nee practically had to pry the kid out of his arms to spend any time with her own son. It didn’t start going downhill until Naruto entered the academy.

“Students and teachers all compared him to his father and he took it hard when his poor chakra control kept him from advancing with Sasuke-kun - his reserves are enormous like Kushina-nee’s, so it wasn’t a surprise to us, but he started to...I don’t know, internalize it I guess? And Minato-sensei had been getting- busier. He missed Naruto-kun’s eighth birthday - the first one he ever missed.”

There was an emergency meeting about...a Jinchuriki disappearance, right? Fuu-san, the Seven-Tails. Sensei had been scared for Kushina-nee at the time.

“I think that’s when Naruto-kun started to actually resent his father, and it was cemented when Sakura-chan’s parents died and she dropped out. He blames Minato-sensei for putting Sakura-chans parents on that mission that lead to her being orphaned and eventually leaving his life.”

She doesn’t really have anything more to say on the subject, throat closing at just remembering the horrible few weeks where Minato looked so guilty and heartbroken while Kushina was torn between her husband and her son.

Rin and Obito tried to stay out of it as much as possible - they were family of course, but they weren’t family.  She also can’t say what else is on her mind, how Naruto has subconsciously picked up on how Kushina, a perfectly capable and accomplished shinobi in her own right, is not allowed to leave the village, how he thinks his own father is trapping his mother in a misguided attempt at keeping her safe. How unfair it all is.

What’s worse? She wonders sardonically. A hundred secrets, or one bigger than a village?

They sit in contemplative silence for a few minutes, watching idly as the chunin in front of them continue to train, oblivious to the heavy discussion being held just a few dozen yards away.

“Now are you gonna tell me why you know that name?” She asks, careful to keep the accusation out of her tone.

He’s quiet for a moment, but the silence only stretches for a few seconds. “I saw a picture. In sensei’s house. I was just curious, is all.”

“So Kushina-nee told you about her?”

He shrugs, doesn’t confirm or deny it, but she knows this game.

He’s letting her draw conclusions herself. It might’ve worked on Obito - bless his trusting heart - but Rin has worked with corrupt hospital directors and wiley healers and shady medical contractors since becoming apprenticed under Tsunade and traveling the Five Nations in her dream to become the best medic nin out there. She knows deceit as well as her own name, lives in a village that makes a living off of it, so she can’t fault him for keeping things close.

She just hopes he’ll learn to trust her like he did once upon a time.

 

Chapter Text

 

“Oi! It’s that old weirdo who was hanging around my house last week!”

Kakashi has to reign in a sigh and pretend his heart doesn’t pick up its pace at the familiar voice.

He’d been enjoying a stroll through the village before his mission, counting down the time to ensure he’s on time, but only at the last possible second. He needs to be in top shape and a model shinobi - he mentally snorts at that - but he can’t make it too easy on his team leader.

That plan is officially shot to hell as he turns to see Naruto, Kiba, Chouji, and Shikamaru coming towards him with varying levels of enthusiasm with none other than Naruto in the lead.

He tries for a friendly wave. “Hello, nice day we’re having, isn’t it?”

Chouji seems mostly unconcerned as he munches on some chips, no gautness to his face that Kakashi has come to see more and more as the battles at home become more dangerous and war looms ever closer. Kiba looks a little intimidated (probably leftover fear of Rin) but overall the same, if not a little less abrasive from Kurenai’s non-existent retirement. Shikamaru is watching him closely beneath his thin veil of boredom, but other than the carefully hidden suspicion, Kakashi can’t find the shadows of grief lurking in his sharp gaze, no lines of tension on his young face and no smell of cigarettes lingering on his clothes from his own favorite brand because this Shikamaru doesn’t smoke, doesn’t have a reason to.

It about what he expects from them, a curious little insight into the other side, and it twists the knife a little deeper.

They each give their own somewhat stilted greeting but Kiba’s the one to tip his head respectfully in a surprising show of maturity and awareness, elbowing Naruto and stage-whispering, “Dude, that’s Kurenai-sensei and Asuma-sensei’s friend, Hatake Kakashi. Wasn’t he your dad's old student or something? He smells weird.” It’s obvious by his quick look that weird actually means dangerous.

Kakashi mentally amends what he said to Kurenai. Maybe Kiba’s senses are sharper than he thought.

Chouji glances at him, expression dubious. “The dead guy?”

Shikamaru sighs like Kakashi wanted to earlier. “Not exactly. He’s from a different world, remember? The Hatake Kakashi of this world is dead, but this one is technically the person your father's student would’ve been if he'd survived the war.”

Seriously, what is with these kids and talking about him like he isn’t there?

Naruto’s nose scrunches in disbelief and probably confusion and looks at him harder with a little less menace, as if trying to find physical proof of his identity besides his face mask and hair and the fact that he’d been hanging out with Kushina the day he came back. “You’re tou-san’s old student? The one that keeled over like twenty years ago?”

Even with parents to guide him, Naruto’s mouth still runs unheeded.

“That would be me, yes,” Kakashi blandly confirms.

Naruto squints balefully up at him, tall but still a few inches shorter than Kakashi and so much like this twelve-year old self it makes Kakashi want to smile as he punts him into a river. “But-but Obito-jii always talked about how cool and awesome you were! And Rin-nee says you were super strong and handsome! But you’re just an old man who reads perverted books and bums around in my house-”

The blonde squawks when Kakashi reaches out to bonk him on the forehead with the spine of his book in admonishment, filing those little tidbits of information for later blackmail.

“Oi, don’t be rude. I’m your elder, you know? You should respect old men like me.”

Shikamaru snorts at that and Kiba relaxes as he snickers behind his hand. Choji nearly chokes on his chips and Naruto complains loudly about weird old guys hitting him.

Brats, he thinks fondly.

 


 

Itachi enters the office with little fanfare.

There are no guards - sent out just seconds before he made his approach by the Hokage - so he allows himself to relax just a touch as he stands before the Yondaime’s desk and slips a single scroll to the other man. The blonde looks up at him with a genuine and welcoming smile, and Itachi wonders if Hatake learned his sharp edges from the man in front of him.

“I’m here to report my interactions with Hatake Kakashi.”

“Ah, so he’s approached you then?” Minato asks lightly, blue eyes kind and curious and not even sparing a glance at his written report, but that does not mask the lurking worry.

“We've only spoke of substance twice,” Itachi confirms, but it takes a moment to describe the encounter. He finally settles on, “He is...aggravating.”

Minato blinks for a moment, chin resting on laced fingers, before barking a laugh with sincere amusement. “I see. Sorry, Itachi-kun, I didn’t mean to laugh. It’s just,” the Yondaime's gaze is far away for a moment, “he’s always been like that, in a sense.” His reminiscent smile becomes more teasing. “Prodigies tend to be that way. Birds of a feather, I suppose.”

Itachi has to refrain from sighing at the joke - a reference to his summons, no doubt - especially since his Hokage seems so amused.

“He’s like a cat, don’t you think?” The blond muses, a little smile still on his face. “Always there when you least expect it and acting like he’s where he needed to be all along.”

Itachi’s noticed that too. It describes Hatake’s feline grace well. “Unfortunately.”

The smile on the Yondaime’s face lingers before he sighs and Itachi straightens at the sound. Back to business. “So what have you two discussed?”

Finally, familiar ground. “Initial contact occurred two weeks ago. I believe was reconnaissance; Hatake-san must’ve heard of my...reputation and come to see for himself. He didn’t reveal much then. The second, we discussed the Jinchuuriki. He is very knowledgeable about our current events and has insight into interpersonal relationships, which leads me to believe similar events have passed in his world and he has history with them. I can confirm he’s had contact with multiple Akatsuki members. He knows of Deidara, Sasori of the Red Sand, and Hoshikage Kisame, but it is likely he knows more than he’s letting on.” He frowns a little. “He also knows about Naruto-kun and the Kyuubi.”

The Yondaime doesn’t look surprised, and that may be because Hatake has told his teacher more than he’s told him or maybe the Yondaime is just that adept at reading Hatake in general, but he has tried to stay as far away from the situation as he could outside of his requested assistance. It makes Itachi question why the Yondaime wants to keep an eye on his former student, but it’s not his place so he does not ask.

He also doesn't mention the times when Hatake drops into his greenhouse unannounced to bully him into getting dango or tea, doing nothing but sitting in companionable silence. It's not like Hatake's teacher doesn't already know. 

The Yondaime sighs, looking pensive. “I see. I should’ve talked to him about it beforehand, but I didn’t want to get him involved yet. He’s already been through so much and deserves a break...now it seems I have no choice.”

That explains some of his Hokage’s behavior. His overprotective nature is well known.

“He also wants me to co-captain with him while training ANBU,” Itachi reveals after a moment. “I told him no.”

Ah, there’s the surprise, but it doesn’t last long. Something in him shivers when Minato adopts a thoughtful expression, and suddenly Hatake’s words come back to haunt him.

We’ll see , he’d said.

“That’s not a bad idea, but I understand your reasons for refusing. I won’t order you to play along with his whims, but I have a feeling he might not give you much choice.” Minato’s expression is compassionate and borderline angelic, but there’s something sly about it and Itachi now knows without a shred of doubt that Hatake has learned more than jutsu and leadership from the man in front of him.

He feels a minor headache starting to throb in his temples.

“Understood, Hokage-sama.”

 


 

Although Kakashi would’ve endeavoured to be a good teammate otherwise, he’s kind of glad Genma’s the team leader. He would’ve been fine with a different jounin and there’s nothing wrong with being lead by chunin like Shikamaru - Kakashi’s never really understood some jounins aversion to listening to someone below their rank - but he knows he wouldn’t be entirely comfortable leaving all his faith in anyone but someone he knows well.

Unfortunately, Genma, like one of his favorite weapons, is a double-edged blade.

He’ll be a more than competent team leader, will follow through on the mission despite any misgivings he may have, will do everything in his power to ensure that all his teammates make it home as safe and whole as possible. But he’ll also keep a close eye on people he doesn’t completely trust (cough Kakashi cough) and as much as it pains Kakashi to think it, he doesn’t know where Genma’s allegiances lie or if he even knows what’s happening in Konoha.

After hearing about Shizune’s actions from Rin just hours before leaving (someone he’s never suspected, a talented medic-nin who he’s always trusted implicitly because she was Tsunade’s apprentice and Sakura’s senpai and a good shinobi to the core)...he doesn’t want to admit it, but it shakes him, opens his eyes to a different kind of warfare, a possible, horrible reality of this world that he hadn’t considered before.

Rin had grimly informed him that Shizune was being investigated by the Torture and Interrogation Department. The whole affair is being handled discreetly and they’ll have information when he returns, but he doesn’t know if he wants to be kept updated.

He shakes away the drawn, tired look on Rin's face and decides to think on it later when there isn’t an A-rank mission that requires his attention.

This is part of his exam - of two supervised missions, one with him as a team leader and one with him as a team member, and he is currently the latter - and he should at least try to be exemplary. He wonders why Minato insisted on the missions before his last two proctored exams but figures his teacher has his reasons. Sensei more than anyone knows of his capabilities in ninjutsu, and no one can question his ability with the Sharingan after his match with Gai.

So two days later and here Kakashi is, speeding through familiar forest treetops on his way to a place so close to where his rogue student had run to.  

Kotetsu and Izumo had held up to the grueling pace admirably so it had taken less time than anticipated to reach the border. The first night they’d set up camp, it’d been with experienced efficacy - the chunin doing their duties in tandem with incredible precision while he and Genma set up a perimeter.

He’d eyed some of Genma’s nastier traps warily without a word, understanding the warning easily.

Genma’s smile had been as sharp as the tip of his senbon. “Can never be too careful right?”

Kakashi had only hummed noncommittally and headed back to the campsite before the other jounin could see where his words had stung.

Kotetsu and Izumo had been all set up with their packs and a fire hidden under a low-level genjutsu, talking in hushed tones and coded words, and had fallen silent at his approach. Genma had been a bit better about it when he’d come back and took first watch, but outside the safety of the village and two teammates lives at stake, he seemed far less amiable than before.

Kakashi isn’t prone to bouts of insecurity, but the lack of overall faith and camaraderie is disheartening to say the least

He pushes those thoughts back as his senses pick up on signs of life a little while ahead. He makes a signal and all four of them drop down to the ground soundlessly.

Genma’s chewing on his senbon, a bad habit he’s had since he first got them, and Kakashi refrains from mentioning the time Genma had accidentally stuck himself with it and got hospitalized for a day due to the poison. He doesn’t even know if that had happened here and the joke definitely be appreciated by someone considered an outsider.

“Alright guys, somewhat cut and dry mission. Kids from minor clans in the Land of Hot Springs have gone missing. While these guys need our help, they’re also wary as hell - their fighting force is tiny and they only have a few dozen chunin and above level shinobi in the country total who are out on long-term or far away missions. They want this mission kept secret - only the police chief, village head, and clan heads know about our investigation.”

Kotetsu frowns grimly. “So they’re suspicious of shinobi, but they’re desperate enough to hire some? And quietly?”

Izumo nudges him, just as grave. “They don’t have the same manpower as us to find four missing people. And these are kids we’re talking about, of course they’re desperate.”

“They didn’t give us many details in the request, so we’re going to talk to the village head and their chief of police.” Genma gestures to Kotetsu and Izumo, “Afterwards, you will investigate the area the children went missing, see what you can find and stay out of sight. Don’t use henge either, just found out this area of the country has quite a few chakra sensors. Kakashi and I will talk to the clans whose kids are missing and backtrack.”

They all nod and change into merchant clothes to head to the village on foot.

Trees thin out to swampy farmlands and clusters of houses. The landscape isn't clear in his memory, but he recognizes enough to not feel too uncomfortable.

Genma’s apparently lost some of his paranoia since leaving the corps - he only sent out one shadow clones to scope out the area to report back stead of the three Kakashi would’ve sent three (which he does).

Once they reach the heart of the village, it’s clear its citizens are all in mourning. Many are glaring distrustfully at them as they pass, wary of outsiders, but some look hopeful too.

Kakashi is more comfortable with distrust.

“You four must be the team from Konohagakure!” Someone murmurs nearby.

They turn to see an older gentleman in royal blue robes coming towards them with a friendly but subdued smile. He reaches out to shake their hands, a custom Kakashi has always found a little odd out in the minor countries, but he doesn’t balk at the strange gesture like Kotetsu does before Izumo subtly steps on his foot.

“Welcome! Thank you so much for your swift arrival! Please, follow me into the main building and we can discuss…” his smile dims into something much sadder, “-ahem, to business then.”

 


 

As the village is rather small and mostly populated by farmers and lumber-gatherers, their city hall is nothing grand or eye-catching like Hokage Tower, but it holds its own dignity.

They take their seats at a long table, waving away offers of food and drink.

Genma, senbon gone since seeing the first house, starts. “I’m Shiranui Genma, jounin and captain of this team. The guy with the mask is Hatake Kakashi, and the other two are Hagane Kotetsu and Kamizuki Izumo.”

They’d debated for an hour on whether or not Kakashi should assume another name until he’s officially reinstated, but in the end Izumo’s logical, “Hatake’s a big name in Konoha and other hidden villages, but it’s just another name in the boonies,” won out. And as expected, the mayor shows no real recognition to any of the names except Genma’s because of the acceptance letter they’d sent back stating him as the team leader.

The man, Inazi Hayato, nods and smiles graciously. “It is an honor to meet you. Thank you all for coming so quickly, I don’t-” he sighs tiredly, “I’m not sure how much longer the village would stay sane.”

“That’s understandable with four missing kids,” Genma says, compassionate but still professional and distanced.

The thread of nervousness Kakashi detected earlier becomes more like a rope wrapping around the man. He’d chalked it up to having the very shinobi he distrusted enter his village before, but now he’s not so sure.

Hayato nods. “The kidnapping happened a week ago. Four children, two boys and two girls, were last seen playing amongst their classmates while the teacher took them on a short trip to one of our watercress fields a mile out. The teacher, Akaashi-sensei, claims that he only saw a shadow before everything went black. He woke to find that most of the children had hidden themselves among the crops, but the four were long gone. We’ve been investigating and searching this whole time but haven’t found a clue.”

Hayato truly sounds distraught, hands clasped tightly together on the table top, but Kakashi isn’t the only one who feels something is amiss.

Now’s not the time though. They’re here investigating the disappearances of four children from this village, and if their investigation takes them to the surrounding areas then so be it.

But first he asks, “Is there a ransom note? Some sort of contact asking for money or valuables?”

Hayato pales and shakes his head. “No, nothing of the sort.”

“No reason why those four specific children were taken?” Izumo presses.

Again, Hayato shakes his head. “No, for the life of me, I don’t know why those four were chosen. We have many clans spread across the country, perhaps they were coincidental?”

“Have incidents like this happened in the area before?”

A pause. “Well, there is a group of undesirables closer to the next town over. An acquaintance of mine has told me of their misdeeds - attacking vendors for money, vandalizing and stealing from incoming merchant caravans and the like.”

Kakashi’s eye lazily drifts over to the entrance of the hall, nose twitching.

After a few more questions, it’s clear that they’re going in almost blind, but that’s nothing really new.

Genma works his jaw subtly, probably missing his senbon, and nods. “Understood. We’ll conduct our investigation and reconvene here to discuss what we’ve found tomorrow morning. If I may, we will need access to any and all records in the village concerning those four children and their clans.”

The mayor hesitates before nodding his assent. “Very well then. I’ll have my guards collect those documents for you with a letter and my signature. Unfortunately, many are still in shock and won’t take well to outsiders asking for personal records, I’m sure you understand. They’ll be here, locked with guards, for you and your team to access at any time.”

That’s not exactly necessary since they could always enter and leave without the guards ever knowing, but Kakashi supposes Genma’s reassurances are about diplomatic relations. He’s always been better at those.

As soon as the man totters off to write those letters and Kakashi ensures they are well and truly alone, Genma turns to them with a grim slash across his face. “Well, something’s definitely up with this place.”

Izumo crosses his arms. “You can say that again. He’s not lying but he’s definitely misleading us. A bunch of missing clan kids and no ransom note? C’mon.”

“Why would he though?” Kotetsu frowns. “Those were real tears. Besides, how much could they possibly get? No offense, but this place isn’t exactly swimming in money.”

Genma sighs. “Doesn’t matter now, we have a job to do. Change of plans: Kotetsu, Izumo, go out to where those kids were last seen and see if you can find any clues. Residual chakra, weapons, footprints, anything. I’ll interview the teacher and Kakashi will start talking to the clans. We’ll all meet back here to look over those records.”

Kakashi tips his head in agreement when Genma looks at him and calculates how long it will take his shadows clones to reach their destination.

 


 

“It’s been awhile since we’ve been on a mission together,” Rin comments airily, landing on the branch right beside him.

She doesn’t make a sound, hardly stirs the air around her, and Obito thinks it should be dumb how he falls for her all over again for just that one graceful move but he can’t really help himself.

“So why aren’t you and Rin married?”

“I didn’t die for you to not make a move, idiot.”

“Rin, I’m in love with you. Six words. Or marry me. Two words, even easier.”

He scowls a little in spite of the warmth in his cheeks. “Yeah, it has, even though it’s just a stupid B-rank right outside the village.”

Rin laughs at his putout expression. “You know how sensei gets, though.” That he does wholeheartedly. “I’m actually surprised he let us on this mission, what with Kakashi out and about too. I mean, yeah we’re just checking up on some seals and something exciting happening is unlikely. Maybe he’s finally finally relaxing about the whole situation? I mean, Kakashi did show up right after Akatsuki declared war on us. Not that Kakashi knows.” Probably.

Obito snorts. “Yeah, right. More like Kushina-nee finally bullied him into letting us out. He’s only let me have two A-ranks since Kakashi showed up. Two! I didn’t even get hurt that bad on the second one, Deidara’s damn bomb got a lucky shot! Jeez, doesn’t he know I have to pay rent and buy food for two now?”

Rin’s looking at him with that knowing smile he both loves and dreads. “You like it though, don’t you?”

“What?” A familiar heat rushes to his face again and he can only thank their fast pace that she probably can’t see it. “Who said that? Not me! Definitely not me!”

Rin hums and doesn’t say anything more, but Obito knows he’s not off the hook yet.

“Well, regardless, we should do something special when Kakashi gets back!” Rin suggests cheerily.

“You don’t know if he’s gonna pass or not,” Obito grumbles. “Genma’s a hardass when it comes to missions. That’s what happens to guys who are in ANBU for more than a few years.”

“You and I both know he's going to pass,” Rin insists, “and we need to take him out or something! He’s always cooking for us!

“Because neither of us can cook,” Obito mumbles, then yelps when a kunai embeds itself at his feet.

“I’m serious Obito!” She huffs, cheeks puffing out.

Obito gulps, recognizing that expression because she adopted it from Kushina. “I know, Rin, but he’s not a ‘going out’ kind of guy. Look, when he gets back, we’ll invite Asuma, Kurenai, and Gai over and we’ll have a little dinner party. That sound good?” Barring Kakashi getting himself injured, but that’s unlikely on an A-rank with another jounin and two high level chunin.

Rin doesn’t look completely appeased but she shoots him a pleased smile anyway.

Obito wonders if this is what being married feels like and thinks maybe he can get used to the idea of making it official.

 


 

Kakashi looks up at the relatively homey manor and wonders how many people are going to glare at him this time.

Didn’t learn anything useful from the last three families, he mentally sighs. Maybe fourth time's the charm.

Before he can reach up to knock, he senses another person on the other side of the door open it. He’s greeted with the stern, tired visage of an older man maybe around Jiraiya’s age with shockingly bright white hair and an X shaped scar across his nose.

“Ah, would this happen to be the Hyorinmaru residence?”

He knows it is so he’s not surprised when the man frowns and nods once. “Yes, that is correct. I am Hyorinmaru Kagami. You must be the shinobi Hayato warned us about.”

Warned?

Kakashi tries for a sympathetic smile. “Yes, that would be me. I have a few questions concerning the disappearance of one of your clan children. May we sit and talk?”

The man steps back, not looking any more pleased. “Hinazuki-baasan will be answering your questions. Her grandson is the one who is missing.”

Kakashi blinks. “I see. Alright then.”

He follows the attendant that appears at Kagami’s call to the back of the compound, larger than it looks from the outside, and they come to a stop before another set of watercress-decorated paper sliding doors. The attendant doesn’t say a word and keeps his eyes down as he knocks gently on the wooden frame and takes his leave, unobtrusive the entire time.

The woman who answers is definitely older but she’s aged gracefully. Her hair is the same shocking white, not exactly from age, so it seems to be a family trait. “Shinobi-san, welcome. Please have a seat and we can talk.”

He stays quiet as she makes some tea and settles herself opposite to him.

“So, you are here about the missing children, yes?” She asks. “It has been…a trying week. Thank you for your assistance.”

Kakashi dips his head. “Just doing my job.” He holds the teacup gently in his hands and doesn’t take a sip. “Hinazuki-san, what do you recall about that day?”

Hinazuki sighs. “It was average by our standards. There was a field trip for the children to visit the outer reaches of our farmlands to learn more of our trade, but it is hardly a unique event. Every month or so the children are taken to the edges of the village to learn trade routes and farming techniques as they are expected to take over in the future.”

“And the missing child...is your grandson?” he asks.

“Yes, that’s right.”

“Is there any reason why someone would want to kidnap your grandson?” It’s unlikely there’s a personal grudge against the clan, not with three other clan children missing as well, but it’s always best to make sure.

“I suppose…” she hesitates, “no, it can’t be our clan ability.”

That’s interesting. Kakashi knows it’s not uncommon for Kekkei Genkai to appear in smaller, rural areas like this one.

“Why not?” he prods.

“It’s not a very useful or powerful ability, I’m afraid. And even if the people responsible really cared that much for it, they would not have chosen my Yoki-kun,” she says. Her smile is sweet and loving and so, so sad. “He’s always been somewhat ostracized from the clan. His abilities never developed to the same level as other children his age and the Clan Head stopped taking an interest in his life. Other clan members followed his lead, and soon not even is cousins would play with him.”

It sounds unsettlingly familiar.

“Power is power, Hinazuki-san,” Kakashi states gravely.

Her lips press together in a line, considering. “Even still, they would not have chosen Yoki-kun. If whoever took him had done their research, they would know that Yoki-kun had a heart defect when he was born that prevented him from fully developing.”

She hesitates for a long moment, gaze boring into him, and he meets it evenly without flinching. She seems to find what she’s looking for after a moment. She raises a hand, and Kakashi watches in fascination as it slowly transforms into something similar to a ducks foot. The webbing between her fingers becomes more pronounced and the skin itself changes to a smooth, scaly texture.

“It’s a very far offshoot from the well known Body Modification Technique. We use it predominantly for farming and hunting.”

“And Yoki-kun couldn’t do that?”

Her hand changes back and folds neatly into her lap. “It requires quite a bit of concentration, and the repercussions are that the transformed limbs lose all natural body heat as we take on the characteristics of cold-blooded animals. His heart couldn’t take pumping blood to his hands and feet, and the cold blood circulating back to his chest caused him to go into hypothermic shock, and so we had limit him from doing it.”

“It’s quite an interesting skillset,” he remarks softly. But it’s not something to kidnap or kill for.

Unlike the Shadow Technique that nearly assassinated the Mizukage or the Ice Creation Technique Haku had used to do incredible things like form icy needles and glossy mirrors, minor body transformations are hardly rare and mostly kept secret out of habitual familial loyalty than fear of other clans coveting the talent. And Yoki, a young, sick boy whose weak body could hardly handle it...why take him where there are so many healthy children in the clan who are just as easily accessible?

“It’s the same with the missing children before. None of their families had powerful abilities, and yet our village has been plagued with these- these sacrifices for so long!”

An aged hand immediately comes up to cover her mouth, eyes wide with horror.

That doesn’t sound good.

Kakashi’s brows furrow. “Sacrifices? Hinazuki-san, are you saying these four children are not the first to go missing?”

She’s quiet for a long time. Her hands tremble, one still clasped over her mouth as if to hold in another shout and one clenched tightly in her lap. Fear permeates from her so strongly that he almost wants to leave, but soon grief overtakes her scent once more.

She’s quiet for a long, long time, but Kakashi is patient.

The tea goes cold long before she speaks.

“Yes.” Her voice is a croak. “Yes, that is exactly what I’m saying.”

Kakashi watches her without a word.

“I can’t say more now, Shinobi-san. Perhaps later when there are not so many eyes.” Her face is pale and makes her eyes stand out, like two bright crystals embedded in her face. It’s like staring at a skull before the skin is gone.

“I will look into it, Hinazuki-san, while looking for your grandson.” It’s the best he can do with the information gained here, mind racing to figure out the hows and whys of this mission. Genma’s not gonna like this.

The reassurance settles her somewhat, but it doesn’t completely alleviate the pervasive scent of terror.

“Shinobi-san,” the woman starts after a moment of silence, voice hoarse and eyes on her hands, “what is the likelihood of finding Yoki-kun?”

She’s not crying but everything about her screams that she is and Kakashi is far out of his element.

Rin is the perceptive one, the one that can pick out someone's thoughts and feelings and find the right way to respond. Obito’s the natural, the one whose seemingly endless compassion seems to draw in and keep people close. Rin tries to understand and Obito just does , yet Kakashi has never been able to do either. Sasuke certainly didn’t seem to think so.

He tries not to think of Yoki-kun’s funeral because it will remind him of one he’s already attended.

(and hadn’t it been quite a nasty shock to find out Obito’s excuses, frivolous and farfetched, were nothing but truths? His burial had been held on a bright sunny day for a bright sunny boy, and in the spots the Uchiha refused to take, double the number of civilians and retired shinobi came in their place with tears in their eyes and sincere words on their lips and-

Kakashi couldn’t look at any of them)

Kakashi blinks and he’s back in the present, looking into the eyes of a grieving grandmother who’s lost her only black sheep of a grandson, wonders if this is some divine punishment for a crime he hasn’t committed in this world. A little tendril of panic curls around his throat because his quick mind his failing him now - empathy has never been a part of his skillset for all the horrors he’s endured - but he doesn’t let it show, swallows down bile and guilt and apologies,.

He just evenly reassures, “We will do everything in our power to find your grandson.”

He doesn’t promise sane or whole or alive and the woman is too old and too wise to not see through his words.

The shadows on her face etch deeper as sorrow takes root, clawing unforgivingly into once-young skin and morphing crows feet and laugh lines into deep, craggy gouges that age her one hundred years. The weight of her fear and dread settle heavily on her thin shoulders, but her back does not bow. Not now, not in front of him.

When she says, “Thank you, Shinobi-san,” it isn’t for his help or his words. It’s for his honesty.

 


 

Unsurprisingly, Genma doesn’t look all that surprised at his little revelation.

Kotetsu and Izumo on the other hand…

“Kids have been missing for years?”

The reactions are expected. It’s not the first time they as shinobi have been lied to about a mission - Wave comes to mind - but this is big.

"From her expression and the way she said it, I'd assume so," Kakashi confirms.

Genma takes a steadying breath, Kakashi suspects more for show than actually needing it. “So we can assume multiple children have actually been missing for years,” he repeats. He rubs his forehead tiredly. “I heard rumors about more missing kids, but nothing about it going back so far. Damn.”

“And that Inazi guy is part of it somehow,” Kotetsu grunts.

“Not gonna let that go, are ya?” Genma sighs. “Well, I didn’t find out much either. The teacher was knocked out too early to know anything useful and I can’t do a Yamanaka mind wipe on all the citizens we interview.”

“Whoever did the kidnapping was good,” Izumo says grudgingly before his face splits into a smirk, “but not as good as us.” He unseals a scroll and out pops an old spearhead, torn clothing, and something resembling a waterlogged watch with a noticeable cross scratched on the face.

Genma stares at the items, nonplussed.

Kotetsu scowls at him. “Don’t look so impressed guys, really.”

Izumo kicks his chair, making his partner flail to keep his balance before elaborating, “It’s not much, but like I said, whoever did it was a professional. No usable prints and residual chakra’s been naturally dispersed since it has been a week. We found the site of the scuffle, but Pakkun did pick up a scent - one of those kids put up a helluva fight. He said he smelled blood and it didn’t match any of the scents from the villagers, so it means those kids are unharmed for the most part.”

Kotetsu adds, “And it rules out the group Hayato was talking about earlier. Thugs couldn’t have pulled this off.”

Unharmed means they’re more likely to be alive, Kakashi thinks. “Pakkun can use the clothing to trace their scent if it isn’t too washed out.”

“And I suppose we can trace the origins of the spear, see if it has any connections with the villagers or the kidnapper,” Genma muses. “But what’s with the watch?”

Kotetsu grins and shrugs, “Dunno, just looked cool.”

Izumo kicks him out of his chair this time, but even their familiar antics and bickering don’t settle the turmoil churning in Kakashi’s gut. He has a bad feeling about all of this.

 


 

Kakashi doesn’t know if his memory is going in his old age of if this is another strange ripple effect from his early death, but he swears the place looks...newer. Or better maintained, he should say, for all that it looks abandoned.

The traps are around where he remembers them, with the same triggers and mechanisms he can dismantle easily, and his new skills in fuinjutsu thanks to Kushina allow him to disable the seals in minutes whereas it would’ve taken up to an hour before. He still feels incredibly underprepared for this though, but he supposes he never will quite match up to the devastating might of a genius Sannin.

Better watch my step, he thinks wryly as another snake attempts to take a bite out of him. Doesn’t seem like anyone’s raided this lab yet, and this wasn’t in Jiraiya-sama’s notes.

Then again, Jiraiya’s most comprehensive and up to date information is probably somewhere on his person. Even Kakashi isn’t stupid enough to try and snatch it from him.

Besides, the Sannin might not even know of any of Orochimaru’s labs in this section of the country. His spy network, while still vast and useful, is considerably smaller now, and Kakashi doubts Minato had spent as much time and manpower in hunting down all of Orochimaru’s secret hiding places like Sarutobi had.

He slips by the entrance, hidden deep within the thick, twisted roots of a centuries-old willow tree, and gets through the first few levels of security with relatively little trouble. Kakashi doesn’t know if it’s a sign or arrogance or negligence on Orochimaru’s part, but he isn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth. The sooner he can collect all the information from the lab and get back to his Original, the better. Clone or not, the place is creepy.

He stiffens where he is moments before a voice calls out:

“Stop where you are.”

Well, damn.