The stupor felt like electricity and tasted like steel.
Anything which was not the War was irrelevant, and fell into the darkening periphery of Kakashi’s vision as he went between the tents and barracks, vaguely aware of shapes into which things and people folded themselves in the organized chaos of the camp.
This was not the ease of the battlefield, where he was enveloped by a thunderous calm, and everything which was not the objective was fog and rain in his way, but the hectic world of the after, where the colors always seemed too bright and sounds - too dissonant. The air smelled of blood, and antiseptics, and that particular kind of despair which only clings to the hospitals, even makeshift ones.
The battle was won, but the aftermath of it kept pulsing in the air, and itching under his skin. He could sense the flows of chakra. The dull echoes of the enormous energies Naruto and Sasuke brought into the world, the ripples of the Uchiha genjutsu. The healing wards circling through the hands of the medic-nin, the jolts of curriers departing and arriving, the mass of Tactical in the distance.
In a spike of paranoia, Kakashi wondered how he might appear to a sensor: broken, uneven, with the sharp shards of power as a memory of the mangekyo, and pitches of darkness where his chakra pathways were probably burnt to hell. He ran so dry he could feel the brittleness of it against his bones, and in the cold which settled in the tips of his fingers.
Don’t, he once again forced his attention outwards, shaking off the fog of the fatigue. If he paused now, he might not be able to keep going. But the camp didn’t give him the chance to, for which he was thankful. Hatake-taicho was always in the air somewhere, in the sighs of the wounded, the alert of the ground staff, hands on his shoulder which were supposed to be a reassurance.
Kakashi followed the most urgent call, of a confused Mist ensign running from the Tactical with a clipboard, and hoped that he could actually be of use. The War, brutal as it was, had been won. And his stunt as a Commander would be over with the last echoes of it. Gods knew, he would take all the mercies given to him, even he couldn't quite tell faces apart at this point.
Within all reason, Kakashi should have crashed a long time ago - from chakra exhaustion, a poorly stitched up hole in his side, or from the simple inability to carry all the rage, pain, and grief of the day. But reason stopped being applicable somewhere around the time when the undead rose from their graves, and judged the living for the crimes all thought were buried with them. Somewhere around Obito.
It could have not been more than eight hours, but they felt like eight years - with the revelations he wasn't sure he was ready to understand, the great Tailed Beasts, and the dimension-jumping madness. And Kakashi did not only have to fight for his Kage, or for his own honor, or the very fate of the world, but he had to stand in battle with or against his dead, whose faces he barely trusted himself to remember.
In the end, it had all withered down to a familiar sense of guilt.
He had not done enough. He never had. And it was that easy - to count the times where he was not there, and couldn’t save all the people he had to save. Guilt was a rotten thing - it trapped his mind in circles he could not escape, and stole his ability to see the future. That much he had learned. But now was not the time to be a better person, when others were relying on his presence and his words.
Kakashi knew guilt, and he leaned into its hold like into a tired embrace, or a familiar set of armor. It was his mechanism and his shield, the thing which kept him moving. And he allowed it to. Because, through that, he could do better for those in his charge.
There was his father, whom he dishonored by being ashamed, Minato-sensei, to whom he did not listen, Rin, who died by his hand, and his students, for each of whom he was not enough. And Obito - the wound on his chest seemed to burst in pain. He could not think of this yet.
Kakashi looked up, to the worried rattling of the ensign. There was yet another logistics mishap he had to look over.
The memory of the battlefield twisted like a knife in his gut, right over the actual flesh wound. And for a moment he had to shut his eyes. And yet he drank power from it.
There was just one name he couldn’t bring himself to think of.
He was not avoiding this. He wasn't.
For weeks - he just wasn't thinking. His mind refused to frame another loss, so he pushed it aside, a missing in action on the official casualty lists. It was something he could not allow himself to think of, outside of hierarchies of command and his duties.
The Mizukage and Kazekage were conscious, the others were stable, all of the daimyos were accounted for, special jonin traveling with them - so the continent’s politics would not go to hell on his watch. Sakura was keeping an eye on those two idiots, Gai was in surgery, casualties from all villages did not rise past twenty-three present, and the stream of reports from the medical was reassuring.
The name was on the hastily put together list of the Leaf’s ANBU involved in the battle, on the clipboard the ensign shoved into his hands, to verify in Lady Tsunade’s absence.
- codename Tenzo, codename Yamato.
There were other names on the list. A few dozen - most of whom he knew, even if they came in after he left active service. But they might have as well been blank, because everything before his eyes exploded in white.
He shoved the clipboard into the ensign’s hand. The instinct, the drive to protect what was his, was choking him, driving driving into a mad rush, and Kakashi had to make an effort not to run into people, or break into a sprint. Or maybe it was the part of him which still felt things outside of guilt, or duty. The one which wanted to be called by his given name.
He ignored the questions of the nursing staff, navigating the rows of the hospital cots for those outside of immediate danger , and -
He stood still.
Hooked up to glucose and antibiotics, Tenzo was alive. In one piece. Maybe even fine.
No, definitely not fine. Dry, papery skin. Bags under his eyes deeper than usual. Weeks of chakra depletion would do that to you. And the Zetsu army sucked him nearly dry.
Kakashi tried not to stare at Tenzo’s bandaged forearms, where the traces of a complicated vegetative system which grew out of him were still visible, and skin became sapwood, and blood and veins melded into xylem and phloem, as life itself was seeped out of him by the enemy.
He could not make himself think of what was under the sheets.
“Hey.” Kakashi said instead, quietly, at an off chance that Tenzo might not be sleeping. But his voice was too dry and too hollow even with that hope. And he kicked himself for it. This was not his time to be weak.
But slowly, the brown eyes opened, and met his. And they were just as bright.
And Kakashi let out his worst fears out with a sigh, as he collapsed on the side of Tenzo’s cot. The smoldering, hot feeling of relief rose in his chest, and he thought he could disintegrate only to let it loose. But quickly, it bloomed into a stab of guilt. He brought this on. He wasn't fast enough.
A panic of loss danced in him, looping the familiar circles. The same cycle of names and memories, which lead to an inevitable list of names. And he was not ready to add another one to it. The mere possibility of it threw him out of his own mind.
“Hey.” Kakashi heard, through the beating of blood in his ears, and felt a hand reach out, and wrap loosely around his fingers. “I’ll sleep it off.”
He had to say something, Kakashi knew. Something reassuring. Something right. But he couldn’t make himself look up from a hand which sat so rightly and in his. So he missed the mark again.
“The medic was telling me your wayward kids saved the day?” Tenzo asked.
“Yeah.” He sighed, and felt a small smile spread on his face, despite himself. “Yeah. Imagine that.”
This was the easiest way to frame what happened. An easy way, which did not fit everything everything into the picture, and was so far away from justice.He will take that himself for now.
Especially, as he could hear the smile in Tenzo’s voice. “.. told you they’ll do good.”
And Kakashi couldn't say anything, because he did not trust whatever was building up in his throat. This was selfish, he told himself, to somehow find strength in this, even when he himself had nothing to offer. And he cursed every bone in his body, when he couldn't tell Tenzo how much he missed him, or how afraid he was. And just sat there, dizzy from chakra depletion, blood loss, and grief, clasping a hand over the washed-out hospital sheets.
“I’m sorry.” He tried, and gathered the shreds of his courage to look Tenzo in the eye.
And even at his state, Tenzo managed to give him a look clearly telling him to shut up. “Yeah I figured you would be.”
And this was so normal, and fell so neatly in the neatly carved space between them, that Kakashi couldn’t keep back a chuckle, and ran his thumb over Tenzo’s palm, which had all the same calluses, and was just as dry and broad as he remembered.
Silence cradled them for a bit, until Tenzo shifted once more to get the most out of his presence, between the space they had, the crumpled sheets, and Kakashi’s torn up uniform.
“Your hands are cold.” Tenzo nodded weakly to his side, where an untouched field ration sat. “Have a juice pack.”
It shook Kakashi to the core, just how much love we still have to give to others, even when we ourselves are nearly at the brink. And he could feel himself smiling so hard sides of his face hurt. “I am so glad to see you.”
“Your eyes…” Tenzo spoke, just noticing something. “This is not the sharingan.”
“No.” Kakashi closed and opened them. “It's how it is now.”
The left one still felt a bit raw, if only from how much he kept that socket covered, but he could feel no difference in his sight.
“I like it.” Tenzo considered him for a moment. “They’re pretty.”
“Yours are too.”
This was close to the top of stupidest things he ever said, but Tenzo laughed. It was a weak, whispy sound, but Kakashi knew it to be true, which was all that mattered.
“Don't go, won't you?” Tenzo asked.
“Won't.” Kakashi answered, even as he knew it was a promise he would have to break. More than anything, he wanted climb into that narrow cot next to him, and stay there, until the world would stop its mad rush around them, until he would stop bleeding.
But he was the Commander, and it was not his time to rest. Kakashi’s obligations held him together like a crass metal frame. Nurses knew better than to bother them, and when Tenzo fell asleep, and he tore himself up from whatever semi-oblivion he started falling into, crooked up on the side of the of the cot, and went back out into the busy camp of the victorious.
There were things to be managed, and orders given, and someone was calling on him - Hatake-taicho.
And then Kakashi himself passed out.
It was one of the lulls in the camp’s pace, when he was surrounded by the busy, murmuring silence of people going on about their businesses, when he realized that standing wasn't exactly worth it. Or keeping his eyes open, for that matter. So he crashed on a pile of empty supply crates which someone left unmoved by the tents wall. And he didn't care how crude it was, because he couldn’t exactly tell where his body began or ended from sheer exhaustion.
On the fringe of consciousness, he felt that someone threw a blanket over him. A standard issue, prickly one from Sand. And as he wrapped himself tighter in the sharp wool, scrapping for its warmth, his last feeling was gratitude.
The War was done with. And there was peace.
And yet, the echoes of the past days punctured sleep like thunderclaps.