Consciousness came swiftly. It usually did for him, a habit ingrained from years of fighting and dangerous missions.
But not so usually, he didn’t immediately recognize where he was. The sounds were different (yet familiar?), the smells weren’t what he was accustomed to (but brought a rush of achingly familiar memories he had no desire to examine), and he was lying in a bed.
When was the last time he had been in a bed?
He couldn’t remember.
Keeping his breathing even and eyes closed, he evaluated his current physical state. His chakra was lower than expected, although it seemed rather lopsided in terms of what he had available. Yet he wasn’t exhausted, and no injuries made themselves known.
He was alone, too. Another first for a long time.
Carefully opening his right eye, he noted that he was in a rather familiar looking bedroom. Turning his head to the side confirmed his suspicions when he saw his old team picture resting on the window sill directly above his head.
But there was no plant.
Sitting up and letting the blankets pool around his waist, one Hatake Kakashi rubbed a hand over his mouth as he tried to remember just what had happened.
A glance out the window confirmed that Konoha was in one piece and peaceful. The moon – what he could see of it through the clouds – was silver. Or maybe slightly yellowish if he squinted. But it wasn’t red and marked with the terrifying tomoes of the Rinnegan.
That ruled out the dreaded genjutsu that they’d scrambled to avoid.
It didn’t rule out other types of genjutsu, but Kakashi had the niggling suspicion he was forgetting something.
He wasn’t panicking – it would be beneath him to panic – but his heart was beating faster than normal and his muscles were tensed. The last thing he remembered was that they’d been camping in a cave, taking rest that they desperately needed.
Had they been ambushed?
Kakashi had thought he’d made the proper preparations so that wouldn’t happen, but it wouldn’t be the first time that he’d made that mistake. Someone else could have slacked off when he hadn’t paid attention – that had happened before.
But…no. He would remember that, wouldn’t he?
Kakashi didn’t think he was dead.
Life wasn’t kind enough for that.
Slowly getting out of bed, Kakashi stood, walking past the desk set against the wall and into the bathroom. His body felt better than it had before, aches and pains that he’d grown used to now gone.
Flipping the light on, Kakashi waited for his sight to adjust before looking in the mirror.
His face didn’t look like it should. It was too young, lines gone that should be there and the scar over his left eye more vivid than he remembered.
His face was wrong, his body was wrong, the room was wrong (and yet not?), and he was alone—
“We can’t go back further than the night I was born. We probably won’t even manage that.”
“Do we even know when we’ll land?”
“It’ll be far enough to make some kind of difference.”
“Are you sure about that?”
“Ah, sensei…anything’s good, isn’t it? But it’s going to be you, so I know it’ll work.”
“So much faith in me?”
“Well, yeah. It’s you. And it’s me. And with Octopops also giving chakra, it’ll send us back far enough that we can swing it.”
“…Never been tried before, but that’s my specialty, isn’t it? Not like we’ve got anything to lose.”
No, they hadn’t had anything to lose. And so…were they actually here?
Kakashi stumbled back, hit the wall, and slid down, hands pressed against his eyes as he struggled to calm his breathing. His chest was too tight, heart pounding loudly in his ears.
The disorientation hadn’t been expected, but then they’d had no idea what it would be like. Or that it would even work.
A fool’s gambit, but Kakashi had been desperate enough to agree to it.
Another shudder ran through him before he could stop it, but it wasn’t as difficult to breathe now.
He needed to be sure that he wasn’t alone in this.
Getting back to his feet, Kakashi stared at his reflection for a few seconds longer before turning away and switching the light off. Looking at his face wouldn’t help him pinpoint when in time he was.
He was younger. That much he knew. Early twenties possibly? That depended on if he had his ANBU outfit, but even then that didn’t narrow it down much further.
He’d been in ANBU far too long, breaking records for the longest tenure in ANBU. Which wasn’t necessarily something to be proud of. It also made narrowing down a time period more difficult.
Surely he had a calendar up?
Or was this still that period of time when he’d been trying to ignore all passage of time and drowning himself in missions?
A look around the place confirmed that yes, he was in ANBU. And no, he did not have a calendar. Sadly.
Kakashi would need to fix that.
He didn’t even know if he had anything planned for tomorrow.
Well, his habitual tardiness would be good for something other than annoying people, he supposed.
Rubbing a hand over the back of his head, Kakashi took stock of his supplies. There was no way he’d just gotten back from a mission unless it was a routine patrol.
It was entirely possible that this was one of those times where he didn’t have any missions scheduled for a few days. The Sandaime had been like that when Kakashi had gone too far.
Nothing told him what year it was.
Sighing, Kakashi changed into something more suitable to wandering the rooftops of Konoha, pulling up his mask. He needed to check on Naruto.
Naruto would either be in the orphanage or in an apartment. That depended entirely on when they were.
Perching on the windowsill, Kakashi closed his eyes and took stock of where he could sense Naruto’s chakra. It wasn’t in the direction of the orphanage, so that already narrowed it down to after Naruto had turned five. So Kakashi was at least nineteen.
He jumped off the roof, only to find himself flying in a burst of tile when too much chakra went into it. Overshooting his goal, Kakashi managed to land on the edge of the next roof, nearly sliding off entirely in shock.
Tile crunched under his feet as he used chakra to maintain his position, and he almost fell off entirely when his feet slipped with the movement.
Shit, what was that about?
Glancing back in the direction he had come from, Kakashi couldn’t make out anything that would have tripped him up or propelled him further than expected. Which meant…
Fuck, how badly was his chakra control messed up?
Hesitating briefly, Kakashi took a moment to focus a brief amount of chakra before jumping again. He instantly knew it had been too little, barely getting enough lift to clear the street before he found his face on a collision course with the edge of the next roof.
Throwing a hand out, Kakashi grabbed hold of the edge, using the leverage to swing sideways and up, landing in a crouch.
Kakashi took a moment, closing his eyes and focusing on what he could feel of his chakra.
There was too much for this age. He knew that much. It also felt slightly different, but he couldn’t quite evaluate what about it felt different without some meditation. This wasn’t the time for that.
Exhaling sharply, Kakashi stood, eye on the rest of the distance he had to travel to get to Naruto.
No ANBU were around, and the streets were quiet.
In other words, he could experiment a little further before he would need to start getting really sneaky.
Five minutes later, Kakashi had collected several bruises and scrapes from incidents he would prefer not to recall. Thankfully the only witness had been a stray cat that had been rather put out at having Kakashi fall into the dumpster it had been scrounging from.
Kakashi couldn’t remember ever falling into a dumpster before. It annoyed him.
Landing lightly on the street that was close to Naruto’s building, Kakashi slid into a shadow and evaluated his surroundings.
There were only two ANBU on guard, which was expected from his memories of Naruto’s childhood. He’d been on the guard roster a few times himself when not on outside missions.
They were the only times he’d been able to get close to Naruto.
Shaking his head lightly, Kakashi refocused on his current task: sneaking past the guard and into the apartment. It would be easier if he had perfect control of his chakra. As it stood, he’d have to rely on good old-fashioned sneaking around.
Those skills didn’t really rely on flashy chakra.
With one last breath, Kakashi withdrew fully into the shadows and moved.
Another shinobi might have worried about sneaking past ANBU, but Kakashi was familiar with their techniques. And he’d snuck through worst situations.
It took several patient minutes, but Kakashi managed to slip into the building unnoticed. He should be upset that it was so easy, but he had years of experience that these ANBU didn’t. And he didn’t want to be prevented from seeing Naruto until he graduated from the Academy or was an adult.
Aside from his personal feelings, it would put a dent in their plans.
Stopping before Naruto’s door, Kakashi took another breath, reaching out to knock. The door opened before he made contact, and he was looking into the young face of one Uzumaki Naruto, blue eyes wide and lips trembling.
An endless moment passed before the silence was broken with a strained whisper. “Kakashi-sensei?”
Kakashi loosened his posture, giving Naruto a familiar smile that usually put him at ease. “Ah, Naruto. Good to see you made it.”
Naruto didn’t respond, grabbing hold of the edge of Kakashi’s shirt and hauling him in. He closed the door quietly, drawing the deadbolt before turning to Kakashi.
Naruto was trembling faintly, eyes shining suspiciously in the little light that his small apartment had. He slumped back against the door, wiping at his face with an arm. “You took your time getting here,” he muttered, breath hitching.
Kakashi glanced at the windows, double-checking that the curtains were drawn and the ANBU couldn’t see inside. He kept his chakra tamped down just in case; he wasn’t entirely sure who it was monitoring Naruto.
He crouched down in front of Naruto, bringing them on the same level. It had been a very long time since Naruto had been this small.
“I was a little disoriented,” Kakashi said quietly, waiting for Naruto to compose himself.
Naruto dropped his arm, mouth twisted unhappily. “Yeah?”
Kakashi dipped his chin in a nod. “How are you?”
“Fine.” Naruto folded his arms over his chest, which would have been far more intimidating if he’d been an adult and not a small child. Kakashi had to resist the urge to reach out and ruffle his hair; it wasn’t the time. “I…for a moment I thought it didn’t work. That you hadn’t made it.”
“Ah…well, I’m here now, aren’t I?”
There was a snort, and then Naruto grinned wryly. “Late as always, huh? You’re never gonna be on time.”
Kakashi did reach out to ruffle Naruto’s hair this time, standing as he did. “I have legitimate reasons for being late.”
Naruto peered up at him. “What was it this time?”
“Disorientation,” Kakashi replied dryly. “It took me a little to remember what happened.”
“That’s…actually a good excuse?” Naruto sounded slightly put out that he couldn’t decry Kakashi for being a liar.
“Ahh, don’t sound like that’s such a surprise.” Kakashi grinned down at him, warmth kindling in his chest at the familiar banter with his student.
Naruto grinned back, eyes crinkling. He sobered a few seconds later, grin disappearing. “You’ve got a plan?”
Kakashi hummed, rocking back on his heels. Plan. Did he have a plan? “How far back did we go?” he asked instead.
“You don’t know?”
“You’re at least five since you’re in an apartment, but I can’t narrow it down any further than that. Small kids all look the same.”
“Hey!” Naruto squawked. “They do not!”
Kakashi tilted his head, amusement curling in his chest. For once, there was little guilt associated with it. They had the time to banter like this, even if it was in the dark of the night and in whispers to avoid the detection of the ANBU. “How old are you again?”
Naruto pouted, nose wrinkling. “We look different,” he grumbled, shoulders slouching. A second later, he sighed, glancing in the direction of the kitchen. “This is my first apartment. It was good until the kitchen exploded.” His grin was sheepish. “The old man was a little better about making sure I knew what I was doing in the kitchen for the second apartment. So…” He narrowed his eyes in thought. “I’m five or six.”
Kakashi was rather curious as to how Naruto had managed to explode a kitchen. “Do I want to know?”
“Ehh…you shouldn’t let five-year-olds cook when they’ve never done it before?” Naruto laughed, rubbing the back of his head with that same sheepish grin.
There was definitely a point there. That was not to say five-year-olds couldn’t cook unsupervised. Kakashi had done so after his father committed suicide, but even he could admit that he hadn’t been a normal child.
Naruto was…well, regardless of Naruto’s heritage and his status as a jinchuuriki, he was far more normal than Kakashi had been at five.
So the kitchen exploding was probably not the worst thing that could have happened.
Kakashi nodded in acknowledgement. “Five or six?”
“I dunno exactly,” Naruto muttered, eyes squinting in that tic that meant he was disgruntled but didn’t want to show it. “Hm…” He scratched his nose. “Wait, I might have something…”
Walking past Kakashi, Naruto disappeared into a room off to the side. Kakashi took the opportunity to investigate the kitchen and make sure that it wasn’t likely to explode anytime soon.
One never knew.
“It’s five,” Naruto said a minute later, voice quiet enough that even Kakashi had to strain his ears.
Kakashi turned, carefully nudging into place one of the heating coils on the stove. “Sure about that?”
Naruto was standing in the doorway of the room, his only response a small nod. Then, “Why’s it so important to know it exactly?”
Naruto may not have done much when he was five or six, but Kakashi had been neck deep in ANBU at nineteen and twenty. The Uchiha massacre would happen in about three years if nothing was done, and three years was more time to work with than one.
Especially if Naruto’s chakra control was as shot as Kakashi’s at the moment.
Which needed to be evaluated.
“Information’s important,” Kakashi answered simply. He checked the clock in the kitchen, seeing that it was two at night. “Think you’re capable of sneaking past the guards?”
Naruto brightened, a sly grin crossing his face. “You kidding me, sensei?” His voice sounded gleeful. “Maybe not when I was actually five, but heck yeah!” Spinning on his heel, Naruto darted back through the doorway.
Curious, Kakashi followed, peeking in to see that Naruto was setting up his bed so that it looked like a person was using it. There was even something bright yellow poking out of the covers.
“No chakra, hm?” Kakashi glanced around the sparsely decorated bedroom. Just about the only thing that signaled anyone was living in it were the clothes on the floor.
“Less chance of getting found out,” Naruto answered, fluffing the pillow one last time before stepping back to evaluate his work. He gave a satisfied nod and then turned towards Kakashi. “C’mon.”
The door was locked behind them, and the two quietly made their way out of the building. Kakashi gripped Naruto’s shoulder before he could try and jump on a roof, guiding him in the opposite direction of the ANBU. Given the fiasco Kakashi had made when traveling across roofs, he didn’t want to know how Naruto would do.
“Kakashi?” Naruto looked up at him curiously.
“In a bit,” Kakashi reassured him quietly.
Once he was certain that they were far away enough from the ANBU to not worry about getting caught, Kakashi crouched to let Naruto jump on his back. Then, without another word, he left for a discreet and familiar training ground.
There were less incidents now, largely because Kakashi was doing his damn best not to embarrass himself in front of Naruto.
That said, his chakra didn’t feel normal, and he was relatively sure that he’d damaged every single rooftop that he’d landed on. At least no one would pin the damages on him and make him pay for it.
Naruto jumped off Kakashi’s back, eyeing the three training posts with a nostalgic expression. “We’re really back,” he breathed.
“Hm.” Kakashi glanced back to the memorial stone, chest squeezing tightly at the sight.
“So, sensei…” Naruto turned back to him with a keen look in his eyes. “What’s the first thing we’re gonna be doing? We can’t just go after Akatsuki now.”
Not for the first time, Kakashi was glad that Naruto had outgrown most of his more impulsive tendencies. Naruto wouldn’t be Naruto without acting first and then thinking, but he tended to think more now.
“Climb trees,” Kakashi answered, grinning under his mask at the appalled look Naruto shot him.
Naruto gave an incredulous shriek that had Kakashi’s sensitive ears ringing. “Climb trees?! Do I look twelve to you?!”
“Five,” Kakashi responded cheerfully.
Naruto’s expression said he’d run right into that answer and deserved it. His tone was more reasonable when he spoke next. “Seriously? Tree climbing? That’s the first thing we’re doing?”
Kakashi sobered, dipping his chin in a nod. “What we can do depends on this next step, Naruto. I need to see where we’re at. So, tree climbing.” He pointed to the nearest tree. “Chop, chop.”
Naruto glanced between him and the tree, frowning. “Are you going to do it?”
“Yes.” Kakashi pulled his hitai-ate up, uncovering his Sharingan. “But I need to see you so I have a better idea of what’s happening here.”
“Wait – what’s happening?” Naruto looked alarmed, and Kakashi could see his chakra swirling to match.
It also looked stranger than normal.
Kakashi folded his arms, a suspicion niggling at him. “I’ll have a better answer once you start climbing.”
Shooting Kakashi another look that said he expected answers sooner rather than later, Naruto headed to a tree.
His chakra focused briefly before he started up, and a split-second was all the warning Kakashi had before there was a violent explosion of bark, throwing Naruto back.
Kakashi darted in to catch Naruto before he could hurt himself, half his attention on his stunned student and the other on the hole in the tree.
Naruto flailed out of Kakashi’s grip. “What the hell was that?”
“Try it one more time,” Kakashi said in lieu of an actual answer. “This time a little more slowly.”
“Damn right,” Naruto muttered, running a hand through his blond hair. He marched back to the tree he had blown a hole in, his furious stance mitigated by the fact that he was physically five years old.
Well, it’d be magnitudes more intimidating once he was older.
This time Kakashi could see Naruto molding the chakra more carefully, and he was better able to see what wasn’t right. There seemed to be an imbalance.
When Naruto stepped on the tree again, Kakashi could see how the chakra seemed to focus for an instant before it veered out of control. This time when Naruto went flying backwards, Kakashi was faster and gentler in catching him.
“Was that enough to say what’s wrong?” Naruto demanded, remaining still in Kakashi’s hold. “You’re not having this problem!”
“Ah…” Kakashi let out a small laugh, setting Naruto down. “I wouldn’t say that… It’s why I asked you to do this, since I needed to see if it was just me.”
“I haven’t seen you blown any holes in trees, sensei,” Naruto said grumpily.
“I don’t have nearly enough chakra to manage that.” Kakashi covered his Sharingan, thinking. “Do you remember what chakra is?”
“Eh?” Naruto looked up at him incredulously. “C’mon, Kakashi-sensei, that’s elementary stuff!”
Kakashi smiled down at him. “Then you should be able to give me a basic rundown of such an elementary concept.”
“Agh, fine.” Naruto scratched the back of his head. “It’s the energy we use to do jutsu. Or climb trees and walk on water.”
“That’s…not wrong.” Kakashi resisted the urge to sigh. “It’s a mixture of physical and mental energies. Senjutsu chakra, which you get from gathering natural energy, is another type of chakra that isn’t inherent to our physical bodies. But right now we’re focused on our chakra, and I wouldn’t try to do anything related to senjutsu considering what’s going on.”
“What – what is it?”
“A mixture of the physical and mental,” Kakashi repeated. “That’s what chakra is. Physical energies are related to our bodies and stamina. If a person has poor stamina, that affects their chakra. Then there’s the mental, which is affected by our experiences. Life experiences. Right now, Naruto, we’re approximately seventeen years in the past. That’s seventeen years of life experiences that our physical bodies haven’t been able to keep up with. Our chakras are imbalanced.” He paused, making a frustrated noise. “And I’ve no idea how to fix it.”
“Um…” Naruto looked blank. “Okay. I think I get it.”
Kakashi was familiar enough with Naruto’s expression to know that he did not get it, but Kakashi hadn’t expected him to. Naruto would always be more of a kinesthetic learner, no matter how many years of experience he had under his belt.
“Think of it this way,” Kakashi said after another moment’s thought. “Your body is a bucket. It gets bigger every time you grow or exercise. At the same time, you’re filling that bucket with water and it’s always the same amount. But what happens when the bucket suddenly shrinks? The water’s still there, and it’s still coming in.”
“Oh.” Naruto’s eyes widened. “So how are we going to get our buckets back up to size?”
Kakashi couldn’t resist a small smile. “That’s the problem. Your bucket will eventually return to its old size, but in the meantime the water level keeps increasing. You’re always learning, Naruto. That doesn’t ever stop. Right now…we’ve got the bucket sizes of our current bodies, but the water levels of our future selves, and that won’t change.”
“Then what can we do?” Naruto asked, frowning. “Are you saying we’re screwed?”
Kakashi didn’t answer immediately, eye narrowed in thought. “Let me try something.”
He picked out another tree, coming up to its base and pausing to mold his chakra. He automatically reached for his usual amount, noting how it felt.
Then, carefully, he tried to filter out the imbalanced nature.
It was difficult.
Eventually, Kakashi thought he’d gotten the right balance, and he opened his eye and set a foot on the trunk. It stuck without any issues.
Most of his attention on keeping his chakra in that balanced state that felt terribly unbalanced right now, Kakashi continued walking up the tree.
He managed four steps before his focus slipped and the bark splintered under his foot. It took a second for him to rebalance his chakra, and in the meantime he’d jumped up a few inches and retained his balance on the tree.
Another two steps, and his chakra revolted again, this time slipping through his grasp altogether. His next step slid right off the bark entirely, and his other foot lost its grasp as well.
Kakashi let himself fall, landing lightly on his feet.
His head hurt slightly, but otherwise he wasn’t strained. But that had taken a lot of focus.
He was basically at a genin’s chakra control level, which was abysmal. He suspected Naruto’s was even worse considering his usual levels of chakra control.
“You didn’t make any holes,” Naruto muttered when Kakashi turned back to him.
Kakashi chose to ignore the comment. “It’s doable,” he said. “But it’s going to take practice to learn how to rebalance our chakra. In the meantime, I think both of us will need to train our physical bodies so that it’s not so difficult. You’ll have an easier time of it than me.”
Naruto tilted his head to the side, expression deadpan. “Sensei, was that you telling me I’m weak?”
Shrugging lightly in response, Kakashi poked Naruto’s forehead. “You tell me.”
Naruto scowled, glancing at the tree Kakashi had used. “Can you teach me what you just did?”
“It takes a lot of chakra control,” Kakashi said slowly. “Essentially, instead of simply taking the first amount of chakra you can, you need to rebalance the physical and mental energies so that they’re equal.”
“So I’m emptying the bucket out until it’s not overflowing.” Naruto nodded. “Hey, it can’t be that much more difficult than learning how to use senjutsu, huh?” He grinned broadly. “I’ll figure it out.”
Lifting a hand in a familiar seal, Naruto paused before doing the jutsu. “Ah, sensei…do you think kage bunshin is still doable?”
Kakashi certainly wasn’t going to try, but Naruto had a great deal more chakra than him, even at five. “The reason you couldn’t manage a regular bunshin was because of your poor chakra control and how much of it you had. Kage bunshin is a different matter. If something goes wrong, I’m here.”
Naruto nodded, then brought his other hand up to make the cross seal that he hadn’t used in years. “Just in case,” he said under his breath, although loudly enough that Kakashi could still hear. “Kage Bunshin no Jutsu!”
There was a brief moment where nothing happened and Kakashi thought that was probably the mildest reaction one could have to a jutsu not working. Then the familiar smoke cloud formed, only this time it was accompanied by a violent flare of chakra that had Kakashi instinctively fleeing the scene before it could hurt him.
It sounded like dozens of bunshin had been popped at once, accompanied by a sudden release of chakra.
Kakashi paused on the branch he’d landed on, body smarting from the shunshin that he’d instinctively thrown himself into. He was lucky that he hadn’t hurt himself with that; using chakra for a high-movement jutsu wasn’t advisable when one’s chakra control was shot to hell.
He was going to have to do so much training to fix this.
It certainly put their plans on indefinite postponement for the meantime.
When Kakashi sensed the chakra dying down, he focused on carefully balancing his chakra appropriately before doing shunshin again to go to Naruto’s side. This time his body didn’t hurt, although he slipped slightly on the landing.
The smoke had cleared, which gave Kakashi an unobstructed view of a passed out Naruto.
Heart skipping several agonizing beats, Kakashi crouched to check Naruto’s pulse, breath rushing out in a relieved exhale when he found it. Another moment’s investigation showed the cause of what had happened: chakra exhaustion.
Which…was utterly surprising. Kakashi could count on both his hands the number of times Naruto had suffered from chakra exhaustion.
But he would be fine.
Sighing, Kakashi picked Naruto up, carefully focused on balancing his chakra, and moved into a shunshin that would bring him into Konoha proper.
He had some planning to do before Naruto woke up.
It was five in the morning when Kakashi noticed Naruto beginning to stir. Checking briefly that everything seemed to be in order and Naruto wasn’t going to wake up swinging, Kakashi returned his eye to the timeline that he had written out.
There was a lot of information, but there was also too little information. And far too much speculation for his taste.
Kakashi had a lot of information on what had happened in the village around this time, but it was all from verbal reports that had been twisted and skewed through time. How much did Sasuke really know of what Itachi had done? How much had Obito known that hadn’t been twisted by his biased view of Konoha and what Madara had told him?
The man was a veritable black hole of information around this time. He was already gone from the village. Kakashi had no idea where he was now, only that the Sannin had been a member of Akatsuki at one point.
Jiraiya’s spy network would come in handy now, but Kakashi had no means of getting his hands on it.
“Urgh…” Naruto groaned, rolling over onto his side. He was squinting blearily at Kakashi. “What happened?”
“Chakra exhaustion,” Kakashi answered bluntly. “What do you remember?”
Naruto slowly sat up, rubbing a hand over his face. “I overpowered the jutsu,” he said slowly. “The bunshin blew up. Shit,” he sighed.
Kakashi hummed in agreement. “Looks like you’ll be getting your chakra control back the slow way.” It was difficult to picture. Naruto had never really been slow at anything.
“Damn it.” Naruto punched the mattress, glaring furiously. “We can’t do anything. What’s the use of coming back this far if we’re fucked because of our chakra?” He fisted his hands in his hair, knuckles white. “Is it all going to be for nothing? We came back and there’s nothing we can do! We’re stuck!”
“Naruto,” Kakashi snapped.
The boy shut up instantly, eyes flicking to Kakashi. His cheeks looked slightly flushed, his breath coming unevenly.
“It’s a minor setback,” Kakashi said once he was sure he had Naruto’s undivided attention. “But it’s nothing we can’t handle. We have the time we need to make sure that it won’t be a problem.” He leaned forwards. “You’re not alone in this. Neither of us are.” He gave Naruto a smile, eye closing instinctively so his student could see it. “We can do this.”
Naruto’s jaw tightened, and he nodded crisply, eyes determined. “Yes, Hokage-sama.” His smile was sly, filled with a fire that had been missing before.
Kakashi resisted the urge to slump in relief, instead opting for settling back in his chair. Seeing Naruto so defeated was…
Unfortunately, it had gotten to be more of a familiar sight for Kakashi, although they seemed to trade off on who would be depressed. This time was Kakashi’s turn to try and lift Naruto’s spirits, something that he never felt equipped to handle. Still, he’d always been able to manage somehow.
And if not him, then someone else would manage it.
Only now it was just Kakashi.
“I’m not your Hokage,” Kakashi said, though he knew nothing would come of it.
“Eh, the old man might have the hat now, but you were the one who had it then,” Naruto said, shrugging.
Kakashi didn’t say that it had been a meaningless title towards the end, only good for raising some kind of morale. After all, what use was a Hokage without Konohagakure?
Naruto had always said it didn’t matter. The people were there, so Kakashi was Hokage. And then he’d be Hokage as soon as Kakashi would hand the hat over so he’d better do a good job with it! And Kakashi had better not die either.
Now…Kakashi technically wasn’t Hokage anymore, but he had been responsible for the survivors of Konoha and the Shinobi Alliance after a certain point. He had been that leader, that protector of the Will of Fire that the Sandaime and his successors cherished.
“So…” Naruto exhaled slowly. “The plan?”
Kakashi glanced down at the timeline, picking the sheet up so he could destroy it later. “I’m going to be gathering information today. You should focus on getting your physical stamina up; we’ll meet up again tonight if I’m not sent out on a mission.”
Naruto whipped around, eyes wide. “Is that a good idea? What if you’re hurt?”
“Ahh…” Kakashi waved the sheet around, grinning under his mask. “Your lack of faith hurts, Naruto… It’ll be fine.”
If he died now after managing to live through the hell that had been the last so many years, he was going to be pissed.
And Naruto would probably raise him from the dead just to kick his ass and kill him again.