Chapter 1: Accidents Happen
It had been a long month for Team 7. Their first C-Rank, with the ensuing invoking of the legendary ‘Genin C-Rank curse’ mixed with the confirmation of the just as old ‘Team 7 Luck’ still being well-and-truly a thing, had left them in a shit situation.
Kakashi wasn’t even sure if his own first C-Rank had screwed up that bad, and that had been during war-time. (Though he may have suppressed that particular incident, it had been pretty embarrassing for the genius and everyone else involved.)
Kakashi could only be thankful to his past, chakra-drained self for remembering to teach the genin to tree walk. It made the trip back to the village faster with all present being capable of the time-honoured Konoha-nin travel technique of tree-hopping.
A yelp and a louder rustle of leaves and twigs sounded behind him for the third time in ten minutes.
Kakashi sighed and pulled back his speed. Just because they were capable of it didn’t make his cute little genin masters of the technique, or make them able to keep up, in chakra or endurance, with the pace he was used to moving at while outside the village.
“You alright, Sakura-chan?” Naruto asked at a volume that irritated Kakashi’s ears, despite the boy having kept pace with the girl as she started to tire.
“I’m fine, idiot.” She replied as Kakashi stopped and turned to look at the two, now a ways back and nearly hidden by the leaves. The Uchiha stopped just ahead of Kakashi as she continued. “Leave me alone, you’re annoying me.”
Kakashi winced, and not just at the volume this time. He knew the boy was just trying to look out for a teammate, the only one of the genin to try and follow through on Kakashi’s words from their first day together as much as he could.
The Hatake took stock of the genin’s condition, then how far his instinctual map put them from Konoha. If they were to continue at the pace he had been setting for them, they could get back to the village in the next few hours. But in the condition that Sakura was in, he would need to be carrying her most of the rest of the trip, and Sasuke, despite his attempt to cover it up was just as exhausted. Even the hyperactive ball of blonde energy had been oddly quiet and reserved for the past hour, despite being the only one of the genin not showing much trouble keeping up.
Kakashi mentally reminded himself that this was not an anbu mission, all enemies from the mission behind them had been neutralised and couldn’t be following them, they were deep enough in Fire Country not to be easy targets, and there was no pressing reason to get back to the village as fast as physically possible. At least, no reason that didn’t involve him being able to get away from the genin for more than an hour of peace and quiet.
In fact, it was close enough to noon that they could probably stop, eat and let the genin rest without him getting whined, or glared, at for going easy on them. A plan that came with the added benefit of getting back to the village before dark at the pace he was setting without having to deal with the shrieking directly into his ears from whoever he was forced into carrying.
He made a point to visibly look up at the sky, as if checking the sun’s position, before starting off again with a swift glace at Sakura’s regained balance.
“Keep an eye out for somewhere to stop for lunch.”
Three very different acknowledgements to the order followed him, alongside the same sounds of inexperienced tree-hopping he had become intimately familiar to him since leaving Wave. These remained the only sounds for a blessed five minutes as his tired genin focused on their new task, on top of staying in the trees.
“Sensei,” The Uchiha-stiff grunt from his right brought his attention from scouting ahead of them to the dark-haired boy.
When Kakashi stopped and turned at the annoyingly familiar tone, he noticed the boy’s red-tinted eyes were focused further off to the right of the route he had been leading them. He sighed and lifted a hand to signal a stop to the two still following a bit behind. He also added unnecessary chakra use to his list of things that his genin were prone to do.
(A list that included such things as try to kill each other; alert anyone, within two miles of their position, of their position; and botch any kind of stealth mission, or exercise, they were assigned as a team.)
Following the dark-haired boy’s gaze, he noticed a brighter patch of sunlight through the trees. A clearing, probably. Nice catch, he doesn’t say as the others catch up and stop in the trees slightly behind them.
“That way.” Kakashi tipped his head in the same direction Sasuke was still looking, for the benefit of the new arrivals, and leaped toward it. He kept his pace slow enough that all of them were right with him until he signalled a stop, close enough to survey what was indeed a clearing from the cover of the trees.
It was quite large and, oddly for Fire Country clearings, had a mostly stone floor. Kakashi would have been suspicious that it was the result of some sort of earth jutsu that for some reason hadn’t been cleared away, but even if it had been it was obvious that it had been created a very long time ago, as it was covered in moss, stones and boulders. The edges, of what might have once been a stone platform when it was created, warn away to smooth curves by the elements. It was also littered by large cracks in places, like the roots of the mighty Fire Country trees had decided to push up on the stone in a battle for room as they grew around and under it.
There were even shallow ditches that ran through the top of the stone, as if water had carved out mini rivers in places of least resistance over the course of many, many years. Though many of these curving drains had seemed to have been covered over in the years since they were carved, with stones, boulders and the occasional fallen branch or tree. And even more seemed to randomly stop for a time, as if the elements had warn the sides of shallow water carvings down until they vanished.
(He ignored the part of his brain that insisted that there were half-familiar patterns in the lines the carvings formed. His brain was good at patterns and all too often found them where there were none. Even if, just as often, these recognised patterns were what had saved the lives of his anbu squads and himself.)
In the centre of the clearing, there stood a large boulder. Big enough for the whole team to sit around a small fire without sitting on top of each other. This boulder was surrounded in most directions by other boulders, smaller but still big enough for someone his size to take cover behind if he needed to, more than enough for the genin to do the same.
He quickly added the clearing to his mental map of this part of fire country and leaped forward until he reached the central boulder, observing the lines of sight available. Then signalled to the three genin and paused as they landed stably enough on the boulder around him.
“Wait here,” He told them as he quickly scanned the surrounding clearing. “I’ll see if I can find something quick.”
“But…” Naruto started to whine.
“Stay.” Kakashi ordered, not in any mood for having any debates about what the genin could, and couldn’t, do and leaped into the surrounding trees before anything else could be said. He could feel the scowls on his back like a physical force. It had been a long month.
He had managed to locate a well-stocked bramble of berries, and had collected quite a bounty, before the now familiar shouting reached his ears. At least the mission had given him a wide range of experience in the different tones of shouting his genin were capable of, so he no longer felt the sudden need to jump into defence at every squabble.
Kakashi sighed and took maybe a little more time than was absolutely necessary to pick up, de-kunai and seal the three rabbits he had caught when they had spooked at the unexpected sound. Then causally picking up the scroll he had been using for the berries and stuffing them back in his many pockets before heading back to where he had left his team.
He cursed the Hokage again for throwing this particular dumpster fire of a team at him, as he shunshined in to the clearing and grabbed the boys by the scruffs as they began to jump at each other. He looked down at where they now hung from his grip before he looked up and raised a mostly hidden eyebrow at Sakura.
“The idiot wouldn’t leave Sasuke-kun alone.” The girl rushed out breathlessly from her stance on the vertical side of the boulder, watching the boys struggles slow as they realised their current circumstance. Good cubs, they were learning.
Kakashi took in the blonde’s angry expression and the red tint in the darker boy’s eyes. He sighed yet again, and dropped both boys over the side of the boulder. What had possessed him to think he could get a clear answer from the fangirl?
“Ouch.” Naruto’s pulled forced him to look down at the boys.
Sasuke had landed well on a flat section of ground. But Naruto hadn’t been so lucky. He seemed to have landed on an uneven section and fallen backwards before he could get his balance. He sat there looking at his hand and the line of blood there, cut on one of the sharper rocks that littered the clearing floor.
“Naruto,” Kakashi started, not even realising the he had started to walk down the boulder toward his sensei’s son and that Sakura had walked around from her place to stand beside him.
“It’s nothing,” the boy waved it off before attempting to use his injured hand to push himself up.
But before he could get past the process putting force on his hand to lift his body, the ground beneath it started to glow blue.
The entire team looked down at the odd light in confusion (for too long, even if it could only be counted as a few seconds, Kakashi would think later) as it began to spread out from the first point of contact. At least, they did until the light reached Sasuke, his eyes still spinning red, and he gasped and fell to one knee, kicking Kakashi into motion even as the glow started to spread faster.
“Sasuke!” Both of the other genin called for the third. Naruto tried to pull himself up, but his hand wouldn’t budge.
On instinct, Kakashi grabbed the scruff of the cub beside him, grabbing a bunch of pink hair in the process and readied a shunshin down to the boys. Not fast enough. The glow reached them just as he was about to activate the jutsu and there was a tug at his chakra, disrupting the technique. The tug on his reserves remained insistent. At the same time, the girl in his grip gasped and when limp.
“Sakura!” Naruto called out, now fighting to push himself up.
She lost her chakra-grip on the vertical face of the boulder and forced Kakashi to jump down to the ground to stop her from swinging out by the scruff, or just straight out falling to the ground. He landed beside Sasuke who attempted to glare at him from the edges of consciousness, sharingan fading to black in his eyes.
Kakashi noted vaguely that the glow began to resolve into lines and patterns that seemed even more oddly familiar, but he couldn’t quite place. They seemed to be following the lines that he had noted earlier to have been carved into the rock of the ground, though they now ran though and over the obstructions of the pattern.
He didn’t have long to focus on this observation though as the tug on his chakra began to grow stronger and he realised how low on chakra he now was.
“Sensei! Sakura! Sasuke!” Naruto was now calling for them all as he kept pulling at this hand as vicious red tinged his aura. Kakashi could smell the panic in the air from where he now knelt between two of his cubs, even as his senses began to dull.
No, not now, he told himself as he felt the familiar stirrings of chakra-exhaustion-induced unconsciousness. Danger. Cubs. Two unconscious, one panicking. Unknown effect. Dangerous. Cubs… Not now.
A growl in the back of his throat as he tried to shake it off. Tried to find a way to sooth the panicking cub.
Sensei’s cub. His pack.
Can’t fail him too.
But his voice wouldn’t work. All he could do was listen to the panic continue as his senses started to shut down.
Could only feel angry, vicious chakra flare strong amid the screams for him and light to flash before there was only darkness.
Chapter 2: Confusion
I thought I should give this little warning here that I can't promise regular updates but I will be posting as often as I can get a chapter edited enough that I don't automatically cringe when I look through it.
Also I did get some concern about bashing here, I don't plan any, but I will be trying to force them to deal with some of their issues, both individually and as a team, and they will be working off the information the team had about things at the time they traveled from (end of wave arc).
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Screams of his name and the memory of harsh chakra swirled through Kakashi unconscious mind, even as his primal brain insisted that he get to the screaming cub.
Cub. Cubs. Need me. Need my protection. Pack.
The instincts insistence grew, until they forced him past the familiar darkness, fuzziness and ache of chakra exhaustion.
The feel of soft earth and grass beneath him came back the same moment as the scent of both, mixed with the scents of cherry blossoms, smoke and further away instant ramen.
Cubs, here. His instincts pointed out as he tried to push his most reliable sense out to check surroundings for threats. Alone, check cubs.
He cracked his usual eye and made a secondary threat scan, only to come up with the same conclusion of the first.
The cubs were lying still around him. Their positioning as he remembered from before the darkness. He shivered at the remembered screams, the scent of confusion and fear permeating the air around them all as they lost chakra, then lost consciousness.
Too still, he thought looking at them. Panic began to claw at his throat, forcing him to reach out with a shaking arm to check for vital signs of the closest. Panic ebbed at the pink-haired girl’s faint, steady pulse, but he still forced his aching body up to check the other two.
The dark-haired boy’s pulse was similar to the girls but when he crouched to check the blonde’s it was stronger, faster. He allowed the panic to fall away from his throat and his fingers to comb through blond hair as an apology for not being able to calm the boy’s. Panic that still echoed in his mind, as he checked the sun’s place in the sky and compared it to before.
It had been at least a couple of hours. They had been lucky so far, his instincts and experience screamed at him, unconscious without any kind of guard. Vulnerable. They needed to get somewhere safe. Get the cubs help, just because they were alive didn’t mean they were alright. He had to try.
The thing was, even if he hadn’t been running on nothing but instinct and stubbornness, he wouldn’t have been able to argue with what they were telling him. He had been an active shinobi long enough, and an active anbu captain too long, to not know intimately how dangerous it was to be vulnerable anywhere that wasn’t fully guarded. Even if it was well within your own territory.
Need pack. Den. Home.
So, he allowed habit and instinct keenly developed by his time in anbu to rise to the surface and take over his protesting body. (At least the cubs were small and shouldn’t weigh too much. They didn’t even seem to have any kind of open wounds, not like the other times he had had no choice but to carry the entire rest of his team. They had all had the habit of competing to see who could bleed the most on the trip back to Konoha.) He sealed their packs as he rummaged for ninja wire, hands not fully cooperating with getting in his pockets, and proceeded to tie the girl and dark-haired boy onto his back, and lifted the blond under one arm, judging him to be the least deeply unconscious and most likely to wake first. Then allowed the instinctual pull of the location home guide him into the trees.
The sun was setting and he was drawing closer to the place his mind was screaming was Den, when the blonde started to fidget, as if he was literally fighting his way to consciousness. Kakashi made the choice to just tighten his grip on the boy and keep going. The other two hadn’t moved, that he could detect, still deeply out. The only reasons he didn’t fall further into panic were deeply ingrained training and experience. He reassured himself that he could feel the faint damp warmth of twin breaths on either side of his neck.
Soon, his instincts said and he changed his pace in response, anticipating the momentum he would need to jump the high wooden walls that surrounded the village, not wanting to waste more time rounding it far enough to get to the gate.
It was only when he was on the descent of that jump that his brain caught up with his instinct, body and what he was actually seeing.
There was no wall. There weren’t any of the familiar buildings of the village before him either.
He moved as silently as he was capable of in his current state, putting his back to the closest tree and crouched, lowering the blonde to the ground.
The mutter was accompanied by a well-practiced disruption to the very small chakra stores his body was currently holding on to with an iron grip.
No change. He slid one hand to his kunai pouch and the other up to the hitai-ate over Obito’s eye, a risk given his current chakra levels and the state of the cubs, but one he had to take to be sure. His instincts had never taken him to the wrong place before, not when it involved home.
He revealed the eye long enough to prove that he was not stuck in some master-level genjustu, but had to push the hitai-ate down quickly when he felt the edges of his vision start to fade out and his exhaustion double. But that brief moment was long enough to also notice something in the distance, through where every instinct in his body was screaming there should be a village.
He picked up the blonde cub with the hand not holding a kunai in a ready grip and started off toward it.
“Sensei,” the blonde muttered sleepily, finally finding consciousness, just as Kakashi reached the point he could see what he was heading for clearly and stopped, looking up in confused awe.
“Sensei,” the boy said again, now struggling to be put down and pulling Kakashi back to the situation at hand with the cubs.
He shushed the boy as soothingly as he could and let the boy down to the ground again as gently as he could.
Weariness was now invading every part of his body and mind. He knew that even if he could work out why his instincts didn’t take him to the village and could work out where they were, he wouldn’t be able to take them anywhere without rest.
And then there was the spectacle before them through the last few lines of trees.
It was a sheer cliff of orange rock. Not just any orange rock, the orange was shot through with red and yellow, and sparkled in the setting sun as if it was on fire. The rock was native to Fire Country, he’d seen it often enough in his travels and knew that much. But he had travelled through most of Fire Country in his time on active duty to the village, and the only thing close to a full cliff of the rock he had seen was Hokage Mountain.
He knew from his time in anbu that Hokage Mountain had had a naturally occurring cave system that had then been expanded for headquarters. His still confused mind suggested that given that it was the same type of rock it was possible that this cliff might be the same. Or at least have a cave they could turn into a defensible den for the night.
(He preferred to use natural caves rather than jutsu ones if he had to enter them. A preference he preferred not to look it too deeply.)
“Sensei?” The boy asked, seeming to be more awake, as he took in Kakashi’s stance, the other cubs on his back and their surroundings as he struggled to push himself up. The look on the boy’s face reminded Kakashi of panicked screams and vicious chakra, which along with his vision taking that moment to swim, pushed him to a decision.
“Can you keep watch?” He asked, voice coming out a growl.
The boy just flicked his eyes to his unconscious teammates and nodded. Then allowed himself to be maneuvered back into a mess of tree roots that could be used as cover for the three of them and helped Kakashi cut the cubs from his back and settle them down gently close to the tree. He then subduedly complied with the weapon check Kakashi made the boy go through before he turned to leave.
“You’ll be back, right?” came a quiet question just as he was about to jump away, the tone carrying his worried fear as clearly as his scent to the Hatake.
“Just scouting for a den,” he soothed the boy, not realising his voice still held the growl, or that he was still using the language of his long-buried instincts to another for the first time in years. “Stay in there until I come back for you.”
Kakashi jumped up and headed for the cliff. He felt bad about leaving the scared cub behind, but he needed to get them somewhere safe before he lost his battle with exhaustion and carrying them while potentially wandering all over a cliff face with his instincts as they were was likely to push him too far.
The first cave he found, if he could call it that, was shallow and consisted only of that small space, there was no chance of another way out if the entrance was blocked, but he did luck out with the second.
Its entrance was small, he had to duck and pull in his elbows to enter, but after that the roof got high enough for him to stand at his full high and the walls pushed out to allow movement, but not far enough to allow more than one enemy to attack at once. There was also a sharp right turn not too far down that stone corridor, cutting off light and causing him to unseal his rarely used torch as exhaustion messed with his usual night-vision. This passage opened up into a larger cave, one he judged large enough for the four of them to set up their bed-rolls with room between and a central fire. And best of all, had two other passages leading off of it, both of which he could scent undisturbed dust, dirt, rock and faintly fresh air moving through not coming from the first passage.
He marked this as usable, with a few additions, and went back to collected the cubs.
Naruto was still shaking in front of his unconscious teammates when Kakashi returned to where he had left them. Needs to work on aim when startled, the silver-haired man noted absently in the back of his head as his body moved on autopilot to dodge the kunai the boy sent in his direction.
The boy stuttered an apology as he realised who the man was, then insisted that he could carry one of his teammates when Kakashi indicated that they were moving. Not willing to waste energy arguing he passed Naruto the pink-haired girl as he grabbed the Uchiha and lead them back to the den he had chosen. The boy following without fuss, pushing his instincts to scream that something was wrong, but he didn’t have the energy left to deal with that at that moment.
Inside the cave, he set the Uchiha down and unsealed the cubs packs, ordering the blonde to set up their bed-rolls before moving to the centre and pulling out the scroll he used to seal camping supplies. He had a fire starting as the boy finished settling his teammates gently into their rolls.
“You have anything for your pranks in there?” Kakashi indicated the boy’s pack as he unsealed a couple of ration bars. At the boy’s nod, he told him to set-up something that would be loud enough to catch their attention if tripped at a couple different points in each of the passages. “Naruto,” he called as the cub started to rummage in his pack for what he needed, throwing a bar to the boy before continuing, “let me know if you think you need more supplies, I’ll let you know if I have what you need.”
He fought back another wave of exhaustion as he watched the cub walk off into the first passage, allowing his hearing to stretch to ensure he didn’t need anything, as he pulled out his bedroll and bit down into the first ration bar.
Himself set to collapse as soon as the last cub was finished his duty, he went to give the still unconscious ones a more thorough check over. Both were still deeply unconscious, but he did manage to confirm that it was only due to chakra-exhaustion, and their levels weren’t currently immediately dangerous, but they would most likely be out for a while, the entire night at best, and risking any chakra use for a few days would be too risky at their age and chakra levels. It seemed they would be would not be going anywhere for a while, and only him and Naruto would be able to be any use in a fight.
His anxiety about the situation, something he was very good at suppressing, spiked. He knew he was also heading for a slump, and given this was the second time in less than a month, it would probably take longer than it had last time to get his chakra back up. Not something he was very happy about, given the fact he had no idea where they currently were and with three cubs to look after on top of it all.
He sighed and slumped on his bed-roll as Naruto wandered back into the cave from the last passage he had “pranked”, and slid down beside Kakashi, bleeding the scent of fear and worry, like he always did heat and rolling chakra.
“Can you keep watch?” He asked the subdued cub again, knowing he wasn’t going to be able to fight back the darkness for much longer. At the boy’s short nod, Kakashi slid to lie down and gave his last orders. “Keep the fire up, be careful with the wood and wake me when we start running out, if I’m not already up. Wake me if either of them wakes up, or the passages go off.”
He waited for another subdued acknowledgement before allowing the darkness to come for him again. The last thing he remembered was the feel of the cub crawling to sit beside him on his bed-roll, not exactly standard watch position, but who was he to deny a scared cub the comfort he needed.
There will be at least one more chapter of mostly introspection stuff before the team starts to realise what they've fallen into this time. See you then!
(I swear, we are going to get coherent badass!Kakashi (or just coherent!Kakashi), eventually.)
Chapter 3: Quiet Camp
*awkward waving* Hi, it's been a little while. It's nice to be back in the land of coherency.
A bit of a filler chapter to get back in the swing of things, with a little Naruto POV(/character-study/introspection) on the side.
Hope everyone has a happy and safe New Year!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Naruto threw another stick on the fire, then pulled his legs up and hugged them to his chest with one arm. He knew he probably wasn’t doing this watch thing properly, but he couldn’t remember the stupid list of things Iruka-sensei had told them to do for it, nor did he really care at the moment. Every time he tried to remember anything, the only thing to come to him were flashes of what happened earlier. The others falling to the ground, no-one telling him what was going on, trying to pull his hand off the ground, to help, but could only watch it happen.
He wouldn’t tell anyone how scared he had been when they had just dropped in that weird light. He had been stuck to the ground, like that time he had accidentally stuck his hand to the floor with the superglue he’d spilled, only worse because this time he couldn’t even pull it off with a few layers of skin like he did then, to help. The flash of light and the darkness had been a relief to him by then.
The way Sakura-chan and the Bastard still hadn’t woken up had him worried. He didn’t know what was wrong with them and wherever Kakashi-sensei had brought them didn’t have any doctors, but he knew it all wasn’t good.
Then there was the way Sensei had been acting.
It had been different. Not just the seriousness, he’d done that back in Wave, but he was weird in a way that he hadn’t before. Growly, but nice and talking weird. Naruto didn’t remember anything about ninja calling caves dens. But usually when adults acted so different from how he had ever seen them, Naruto got worried. Too many times it had meant not good things for him. Maybe he was just tired and trying to get them to safety, like he hadn’t had to last time he collapsed like that. Naruto hoped it was just that chakra-exhaustion thing like it had been last time, ‘cause it had only taken a week for Sensei to get fully better, and he had been able to do things after the first day anyway.
But Naruto didn’t feel scared, not when Kakashi-sensei was there, even if he wasn’t awake. Naruto had been when he had been left in charge of the others alone though, but it had gone away when Kakashi-sensei came back for them. But it was also weird, like he was fully trusting Naruto to be able to do what he was asked to do, like he actually fully thought he was capable of doing it alone. Iruka-sensei always seemed think he could do things eventually but not fully trust him to be able to do it alone now.
Although, now that he’d had time to think about it, it made sense that Sensei had had to as the only other team-member awake, but at the time Naruto had felt light and happy under everything else Kakashi-sensei trusted him with so much.
It had been a bit weird to set pranks for no-one in the dirty passages, even more so after being directly told he could and should. But he guessed if anyone walked into them, he’d have at least have time to make sure Sensei was awake to help him if they were dangerous.
Naruto was hungry. The ration bar Sensei had given him as he sent him to set up the pranks hadn’t been much and they hadn’t managed to eat anything before that weird light thing. But he didn’t want to wake Sensei unless he had to and he didn’t have anything left to eat in his pack, and neither did the others. He had asked them back on the rock, as they waited for Sensei to find something, if they had anything they could share between them while they waited. Sakura had just said that he needed to learn how to wait for things and the Bastard had started on about how a proper shinobi should be able to wait to eat, which had gone the usual way things seemed to go with them.
It didn’t really matter, Naruto was used to being hungry.
The rumbling of his tummy and the crackling of the fire were his only distractions from listening for the sounds of movement in the passages.
Kakashi woke, in the tradition of elite shinobi of deep sleep to completely alert for danger without a single clue give to watchers, to a particularly loud rumble next to his ear. It took him a moment to recall the events before his nap and assess his condition and sense for danger. From the levels of chakra he had regained he estimated that he had been out for at least three hours. Not sensing anything he needed to react quickly to in the camp he opened his eyes.
He did all this silently, taking in the hunched orange figure beside him just as a second loud rumble issued from the direction of the cub’s stomach. A reminder that he hadn’t been fed properly since the short breakfast the team had shared early that morning, which set his own stomach to protest the lack of energy stores needed for his own continued recovery.
(That cub needs fed more, faster metabolism, his instinct cried from where it was currently being pushed to in the back of his head. Bad pack-leader.)
Kakashi blinked, gave their camp an assessing sweep and pulled himself into a sitting position.
“Any movement?” He asked the boy when he turned at the disruption of stillness that had hovered over the camp.
“Sensei?” The cub asked, confused before Kakashi tipped his head at the other cubs lying on the other side of the fire. The boy looked over, opened his mouth, then snapped it shut again with a little crease to his eyebrows, before saying slowly. “Oh. No change.”
Cute, Kakashi caught himself thinking when he realised what had happened. He’s trying to follow reporting procedures.
He couldn’t help himself from reaching out and ruffling the boy’s hair as his stomach rumbled loudly again. Taking the hint, Kakashi pushed himself up and reached for his supply scrolls again to feed them both.
As he worked on the simple camp meal, the boy remained hunched on Kakashi’s bedroll. Blue eyes scanned from him and the other cubs to the entrances, then turning greedily to the food, before he seemed to shake himself and repeat the cycle.
Good cub, Kakashi thought as his still tired mind caught up with what the boy was doing. Still remembering to keep watch.
They stayed silent until the meal was complete, and Kakashi handed over the boy’s large serving as he sat down next to him. The boy picking at it slowly despite how hungry his stomach was still loudly letting them know he was. Kakashi wasn’t sure it was for the best that he wasn’t going to make himself sick by eating fast, or worried that he seemed to either know what happened if he ate too fast, or was too worried to eat properly.
“What happened?” was the first soft inquiry from the boy as he switched his gaze toward the still unconscious pack-members. Kakashi was almost surprised, even in his still half fuzzed condition, that it had taken so long for him to start questioning the circumstances.
“I’m not sure.” He heard the growl in his voice as he spoke as the truth fell off his tongue. The outer reminder that his instincts were still too close to the surface and influencing his reactions mixed with his confusion of them apparently having been wrong in getting them back to the village. He pushed it all back for the moment, still tired and muddled from chakra-exhaustion.
“What’s wrong with them? Why won’t they wake up?” The boy asked, turning to look up at Kakashi with worried eyes.
Kakashi looked down into blue pools, tired mind bypassing all the blocks he had put up and flashing a memory of all the ways this cub was similar to his parents. He forced himself to shake away the guilt and turn away before answering.
“Like after your first fight in Wave? But they didn’t fight,” Kakashi could hear the confusion in the voice finally starting to recover its customary curiosity
“I’m used to it, they’re not. It’ll take them longer to recover enough to wake up.”
Silence returned as they finished their meals and cleaned up. Kakashi took the moment to check the other cubs before walking to each of the cave entrances and focusing his senses, but all he could sense was the presence of him and the cubs.
He debated with himself about leaving to check the area outside the cave, but the sudden wave of exhaustion washing over him and the fact that he hadn’t seen were the cub had set his often-ingenious traps kept him were he was. (The instinct screaming to remain within kunai throwing distance of the cubs had nothing to do with his decision.)
“You tired?” He asked, not quite able to keep the exhaustion out of the growl his voice remained.
“No,” the boy answered from where he was tending the fire again.
“Can you keep watch again?” Kakashi asked again, using all his concentration on not collapsing onto his bedroll.
“Wake you if we start running out of wood, if either of them wake up or the passages go off?” The cub repeated back his earlier orders, checking he still had them right.
“Hmm,” Kakashi rumbled in agreement and acknowledgement as he settled himself back onto his bedroll, pushed the confused park of his brain that was still trying to puzzle together what happened to them to the far back to work and allowed the dark of unconsciousness to come to him at the sound of a small body resettling next to him.
Next time we get even more participants in awkward camp conversations.
Chapter 4: Rest
Sasuke and Kakashi kind of took over this one, throwing in a little more world-building. I am at the mercy of their character-based decisions.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The first thing Sasuke became aware of was the impenetrable dark, then came awareness of the heaviness of his limbs.
He couldn’t move.
No, no, no, no.
Flashes of red on tatami, wood and familiar clothes. The tang of metal on his tongue, in his nose. “Because I wanted to test myself,” in that scarily familiar voice. Fear, confused anger, pain.
“Sensei!” Another very different familiar voice shouted, followed by a quick shuffle of cloth and a deep growl. “Bastard!”
A long-fingered hand on his forehead and a soft rumble from above him.
“Easy cub,” this voice was almost familiar, but too deep, too much of a growl for him to place in the dark still enveloping him. The touch and the voice were calming, protecting him from the fear and pain. “Wake,” the growl gave the soft order as Sasuke stopped trying to move and took a deep breath. Something about the voice made him feel he should listen. So, he forced his eyes to blink open.
A blur of silver and navy blue above him slowly resolved into a familiar face, but something about it forced Sasuke to stare. There was something different there in that single visible grey eye.
“‘Kashi-sensei?” He didn’t even realise he had spoken until his ears registered the hoarse whisper. He winced at the weakness of the sound and how the unarticulated first syllable turned the attempt to identify the man into a childish nickname. The man tilted his head slightly to the side at the sound before there was a loud interruption.
“He alright?” The voice caused Sasuke to wince at way the volume and pitch triggered the realisation of a thumping headache through the fog. The man above him blinked rapidly and flicked his eye to Sasuke’s right which pulled his attention in the same direction.
The flash of orange there did nothing for his newly realised headache and he quickly turned back to catch the older man shaking himself slightly and his eye darted around for a bit before focusing on Sasuke again.
“Food,” another short, soft order, the familiar voice of his sensei now more recognisable under the growl. Sasuke’s fogged thoughts became even more confused at the word, trying to work out what he could have possibly meant, until there was a quick movement from his right. So, this order wasn’t for him.
“Like earlier?” The Idiot asked, slightly easier on Sasuke’s ears now, further away and mixed in with sounds of camp gear being shuffled around.
The man above him just nodded as his eye seemed to take in everything about Sasuke, causing him to catch his breath under the intensity. The hand that had remained on his forehead moved, pushing his hair back. Sasuke had to force himself to keep from pushing up into the fingers as they trailed through his hair.
He didn’t need comfort, not anymore. He was an avenger.
(He didn’t think how long it had been since he had felt so safe, since he had someone to watch over him when he felt off. Who it had been that had made him feel that way. How much he had liked it.)
Kakashi made another quick, thorough assessment of his own condition as he gently helped the still severely weakened cub up by his nape and offered him a sip of water. He hadn’t taken the time for it when he had jumped into a defensive stance as he woke at Naruto’s panicked shout and scent. A scent that had been joined by another more potent one of panic and fear, forcing him to think only of focusing his resources on protecting the vulnerable cubs.
Chakra levels high enough to cause enough of a problem to most attackers to enable the cubs to get away. Physically, not immediately about to collapse, exhaustion manageable. It only felt like he had been doing continual physical activity without sleep for three days, rather than the week it had felt like when he had last woke.
The incident in Wave may have kicked into his head that he had let his conditioning slack, but even with how far it had fallen, he was confident he could take on at least three A-rank threats as he was without strain, so long as he wasn’t reckless.
He slowly settled the boy in his hands back down to his bedroll and ran through the quick diagnostic jutsu he hadn’t had the reserves for before. Such severe chakra exhaustion so young was a serious concern, as healers had liked to remind him, and his sensei, as a cub.
At the jutsu only picking up low chakra levels and associated physical exhaustion, he allowed his hand to rest on Sasuke’s forehead a second longer before turning to the last cub remaining unconscious. When he repeated the jutsu, and repeated the results with only slightly worse levels, he turned to assess the third cub as he moved carefully near the fire.
Both Kakashi’s instincts and experience told him it was around mid-morning. Despite his training, and a section of his instincts, wanted him to scout the area to try and place where they were and locate escape routes, a larger part of his instincts, with a small logical part of his brain, reminded him that Naruto had been awake all night. The blond boy might appear to have been spared the chakra exhaustion that had afflicted the rest of them, but he had also been unconscious back in that clearing and his panicked shouts through the draining light still echoed in Kakashi’s mind.
Observing now with clear head, Kakashi could see the slight shake of the blond’s hands as he worked. Not enough to affect the meal, but enough to signify that he was getting past his own limits. Looking back, the way the usually hyperactive boy had been silent and focused in the tasks he had been set since the clearing was also concerning.
Sasuke may be awake for now, but he still needed a lot of rest. He wasn’t in any condition to defend himself, let alone his unconscious packmates, so couldn’t be left on watch. Even if Sakura were to wake soon, she wouldn’t be in any better condition than Sasuke. Which leaves Naruto the only one other than Kakashi capable of taking the duty, and he’d had it all night. Kakashi won’t be going anywhere until after Naruto rested.
Kakashi was drawn from his plans as the blond boy pulled out Sasuke’s camp bowl from his pack and filled it alongside the two they had used during the night. When he brought it all over, handed them out and settled beside the older man, Kakashi turned to help the darker boy up enough to eat. Only when they were all well into their bowls did he turn to the blond.
“Finish that and get some sleep,” Kakashi told him, pleased that his voice was slowly losing the growl.
“But…” the blond started, looking, and smelling, a little panicked as he looked around the camp.
“I’ll need you to take watch from me later,” he countered whatever the boy was about to say. “You need to be awake enough to react appropriately.”
“I can…” Sasuke started, having revived more with the food.
“Someone with severe chakra-exhaustion is not an appropriate choice of watch if there are other choices.” Kakashi harshly spoke over the boy’s attempt at arrogant defiance, ignoring the way his mind helpfully reminded him of the many times he had taken watch in that condition over other, less affected squadmates.
(Genma had once joked to Tenzo that he almost seemed to get better at watch when he was suffering from severe chakra-exhaustion, or injury. That those were the states that forced him to rely on instincts he spent the rest of his time supressing to the point of non-existence was not something he liked to think on.)
The Uchiha attempted to glare, but seemed to realise quickly the truth in his sensei’s words as he continued to struggle to lift his shaking arms enough to continue eating.
Naruto looked between the two of them quickly before slumping, realising that Kakashi was right. His gaze then flicked to settle on their last teammate.
“Is Sakura-chan going to be up soon, too?” He asked softly.
“Who knows?” Kakashi answered softly, gaining two startled looks directed at him, forcing him to clarify gently. “Everyone recovers differently, and her reserves are smaller than yours. Chakra recovers quicker while we are unconscious and using as little as our body can take. Sasuke woke as soon as he had recovered enough chakra to do so. But this means it will take longer for him to recover a full store and has to deal with physical weakness while awake, unless he continues to sleep and rest.”
Sasuke scowled at his prognoses, while Naruto frowned as if thinking the explanation over.
“So, Sakura-chan could stay asleep and recover quicker,” He said slowly, looking at Kakashi for clarification as Sasuke’s scowl grew deeper.
“Umm,” Kakashi hummed in agreement with a slight nod. “Or she could do a bit of both, either way it’ll take at least a few days before either of them will be fit for any chores.”
“Oh,” the boy replied before turning back to stare thoughtfully at his meal.
The rest of the meal was eaten in blessed silence. An oddity now that both boys were conscious, but Kakashi wasn’t going to argue with it, aware he was only given the reprieve due to them both being too exhausted to fight with each other in any capacity. From the looks of it, they would all be stuck in close proximity for a while longer yet and his sensitive hearing would thank them for any break from the strain the three cubs continually put on it he could get.
Naruto moved to clear up a little when he emptied his bowl.
“Sleep,” Kakashi said pointedly as he waved the boy off, turning to resettle Sasuke as the blond bit his lip but nodded and switched direction toward his own bedding.
The darker boy grunted as he once again lay in his own bedroll, glaring up at Kakashi who just turned to do the chores he had waved Naruto away from, cleaning the used bowls and setting the leftovers aside to reheat later.
Sometime between these actions and finishing the other minor camp chores he worked through, the feeling of two sets of eyes following his every move faded away, replaced by the soft breathing of sleep.
He sat back with a quiet sigh and settled himself into the well-remembered state of camp watch, spreading his senses out as far as he is able to catch anything unusual. Only after relieving himself of camp concerns did he finally allow his mind to consciously turn to their situation and how they got there. Trying to fit all the pieces together.
The oddly familiar patterned lines of light in the rock. The fact that he was sure he had run in the direction of Konoha from where they had stopped, but they weren’t there. The drain of chakra. Waking up in the grass surrounded by unconscious cubs. Naruto stuck to the rock by his injured hand as the light began.
Kakashi’s stomach sank. The only thing he was sure of was that he wasn’t going to like the answers he would get when he completed this puzzle.
Let's see what these guys will let me do with them next. I might even finally get Kakashi away from his cubs.
Chapter 5: Realisations
I finally managed to get the overprotective, stubborn ass out of the cave. Yay! (He fought me the entire way.)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Kakashi couldn’t stop his hand from running softly through golden hair before letting it fall onto Naruto’s shoulder and shaking the sleeping boy. Then again harder, when this didn’t get any reaction other than a soft groan.
“Wha..?” Naruto mumbled softly.
“Come on, Cub, up.” Kakashi ordered gently as he moved back to the fire. He had left the boy’s bowl there, near the pot of camp stew he had made to distract himself from the nagging feeling that he wasn’t seeing the obvious answer to the puzzle of their circumstance. Once Naruto finally sat up groggily rubbing at his eyes, Kakashi handed the bowl over.
“Sensei?” Naruto questioned as he stared at it confused, before looking up again. The silver-haired man remained silent for a moment as he stood and walked over to check on the other two cubs. They had remained unconscious over the quiet hours the boy had been resting.
“We need more firewood,” Kakashi told him with a vague hand flick at the pitifully small pile where he had emptied the last of the firewood he had stashed in his scrolls. “I need to do a perimeter sweep. Should do both before dark.”
A soft “oh” was the only verbal response the man got as he reassured himself that there had been no change for the worse in the healing sleep that had such a hold over the genin. This didn’t keep him from being hit with the scent of nervousness and worry that emanated from the boy as he ate. Kakashi had to fight with the instincts that were again screaming at him to stay and protect the scared cub, but he couldn’t continue as they had. They needed firewood and he needed to know how to get the cubs out safely if they were attacked. He needed light in order to make sure he didn’t miss anything, he would be distracted enough by leaving the cubs by themselves and the mysteries of the situation.
He needed to ensure that it was safe enough for them to stay holed up there long enough for his cubs to recover.
(The oddly familiar patterned lines of light in the rock. The drain of chakra. Waking up in the grass surrounded by unconscious cubs.)
He needed to know where they were and figure out where to go from here.
(The fact that he was sure he had run in the direction of Konoha from where they had stopped, but they hadn’t arrived. Naruto stuck to the rock by his injured hand as the light began.)
He needed to figure out why his brain had been screaming at him that he was missing some piece of the puzzle for the past few hours.
He shook himself out of his train of thought, stood and turned to address the golden cub who was looking up at him with wide eyes.
“I’ll be as fast as I can,” he tried to tell him gently before giving out a list of orders. “If either of them wake up make sure they drink and eat something, but don’t let them move. If there’s sound in the passages, try and get them both out another way as quietly as possible and find someplace defensible if you have to. I’ll make sure to signal when I come back.”
The boy solemnly nodded at each of these instructions before he frowned, thinking something over seriously.
“What signal?” He asked, tilting his head in confusion.
Good cub, Kakashi thought vaguely at the boy for thinking ahead, even as he thought back over all the signals he was most used to using with his past teams. Most were too subtle for a genin to be expected pick up, especially at their current level of training.
Kakashi grimaced at the idea that that thought brought him to and the one simple, obvious signal system that could work. His own training one, created for him by his father then passed onto his sensei and ending up being used in his time as a genin. He took a deep breath, checked over his equipment and turned toward one of the passages he had yet to use. Examining the passage in torch-light as he spoke.
“Howls. Short for it’s safe, long for get ready to move.”
“Short for safe. Long for move,” Naruto muttered behind him, like he was trying to engrave it in his mind, his scent still sending waves of his worry to the older man. “Okay, got it.”
“Good cub,” Kakashi muttered unconsciously, as his concentration was focused on the passage. “Stay alert,” he ordered over his shoulder as he stepped carefully into the passage.
Kakashi breathed a short sigh of relief as he finally took a step out of the passage onto the sharp incline of non-trapped red-orange rock warmed by the mid-afternoon sun he found there.
He was sure it was only his experience with witnessing, and hearing of, some of Naruto’s more vindictive and ingenious pranks that kept him from falling into any of the traps that had been set along the route the day before. On two separate occasions, it was only the instinctive reaction to double check his first choice of how to avoid one trap he had easily located that kept him from tripping the more covert one set for that exact reason. An instinct that most of Naruto’s regular anbu watchers, and anyone who had been exposed to an Uzumaki’s idea of trap training, developed quickly enough in a bid for self-preservation.
The traps were not the only reason Kakashi had had to force himself to move through the passage carefully. There had also been multiple passages and caverns off of the main route and he had had to fight his instincts again to run checks off into them. The only reasons he had been able to continue his direction out was the need for firewood, the way they had all given the scent of disuse and dust and the way Naruto had trapped the passage between where the cubs were staying and the first of the branches had been so thorough and vindictively sneaky that it would catch anyone who moved through them quickly.
He could explore and check the rest of the tunnels of the den after he had secured the perimeter.
He glanced around at his position and realised had come out slightly further up and along the cliff from their first entrance. So, he marked its place on his mental map and ran down to the bottom of the cliff to leap quickly into the comfort of the trees. He spread his senses as far as they could reach around him and started his sweep along the tree-line.
When he had run the bottom of the cliff for long enough only finding the scents of forest, rock and various animals, he started making quick stops to pick up firewood, various berries and set snares for prey.
The well-remembered routine left his brain to once again to turn to the puzzle of their circumstances. He brushed the odd feeling of familiarity his instincts were still screaming at him, telling him he was already back in his territory, while his every other sense was telling him he didn’t know this place.
The half-familiar lines in the stone ground lighting up when Naruto touched them with his injured hand. The drain of chakra. Waking up on the grass.
Waking up on the grass.
Kakashi stilled in the middle of sealing another bundle of firewood and mentally ran through the hazy images of those last few moments before he lost consciousness.
Slowly, he finished what he was doing and slipped the scroll back in his vest before reaching for the one kunai he had carried with him since he made jounin. He had attempted to leave it behind more than once, with the memories of the man who had given it to him, but it always ended up back in his supplies again. He had to force himself to look away from the distinctive three-pronged blade to focus on the seal on the handle. The familiar swirls of hiraishin stared back at him and he took a moment to mentally flip the lines of light from the previous day to compare the two.
“Oh, shit,” he hissed when too many of the central lines matched up. He closed his eyes and slipped it away. “No.”
One part of the puzzle solved, he thought derisively. That explained his sudden lack of direction and the chakra exhaustion.
He was right in his earlier assessment, he didn’t like where these answers were going.
This conclusion might have explained why they didn’t make it to Konoha, but he had been witness to too many of Sensei and Kushina’s “debates” about time-space seals not to recognise the risks of setting one off. Especially given the fact that the seal matrix must have been damaged given the way the stone it had been carved in had been overgrown and covered in boulders.
They could be anywhere.
He shook off that thought for the moment, he had already known that he hadn’t known where they were, and continued on with his current task. He was almost at the end of the cliff so turned to run up it, deciding to sweep the top of the cliff. Marking all the places in the rock that could lead into various tunnels and caves, absently wondering if they connected back to the den.
The quick glance of the surroundings from the top of the cliff gave him another odd sense of familiarity, but he once again shook it off with the knowledge that he had only seen the amount of fire rock in one place before. Instead, he turned and ran to the edge of the trees that grew a couple of hundred metres back from the edge, continuing the same routine as he had set below.
After making it back to where the passage he had exited from was without coming across any recent indication of other humans, he ran back to the cliff edge to rest and look out over the area below.
The orange rock was sun-warmed beneath him as he settled into a comfortable crouch, the red and gold veins sparkling in the lowering sun. He looked out over the forest below, trees not quite as large, or growing as densely, as he was used to while in Fire Country, particularly nearer to Konoha, but still covering most of the scenery below. He did notice some large areas cleared of trees further off in the distance. There were also the occasional sparks of light that on inspection seemed to be light reflecting off water, rivers snaking through the trees and springs hidden under the canopy.
The odd sense of familiarity rose in him again, the longer he looked.
He shook his head and blinked. He looked again.
This time his mind layered a shadow of familiar buildings and walls over the scenery below.
He blinked again, removing the memory from his sight as he stared down.
He thought back again to some of the louder debates about time-space seals and what could possibly happen if they weren’t properly drawn, or even if they were messed with. How lucky the Nidaime had been that he hadn’t just disappeared one day while he was creating the hiraishin, like some other people who had reportedly being working on similar seals had. That it was a time and space seal.
“Oh, shit!” Kakashi groaned as he looked down the unfamiliar, familiar cliff. “No, no, no.” He mumbled as he looked out, following the turns of the river through the trees, matching them up with the familiar turns the water took through Konoha.
Silently panicking, Kakashi moved on autopilot, biting his thumb and running through the familiar hand signs. Not thinking of the fact that he had told himself that he wouldn’t try this course of action until he was further recovered. In seconds, chakra smoke burst into existence before him and a startled yip and alert growls filled the air from within it.
Everything stilled in shock as the smoke slowly dissipated.
Hope you enjoyed!
Chapter 6: Shocks
So, I finally worked out why so many authors on here just leave evil cackling notes on chapters with cliffhangers. I may have gotten some *looks* for my reaction to reading some of the comments left for me after the last chapter.
So, we answer a few questions from last time and have a bit more world-building.
Kakashi stared, attempting to process the sight before him and compare what he was seeing to what he had expected. This discovery in addition to the others his brain had so recently made, left his thoughts running much slower than would be expected for someone lauded a genius, even as it logged the information before him.
Three wolves, two predominantly grey and a russet brown, stared right back at him, just as confused and aggressively alert in their surprise as Kakashi.
“What...?” The larger of the greys’ hackles were raised as his deep bass growled the cut off question. Feral golden eyes remained fixed on Kakashi from above his head as he remained crouched. The other grey took the moment to slide up to the other’s side, scenting the air.
The proximity of the two allowed Kakashi easy logging comparisons of their size and shade. The one who had spoken was big, in all the ways that matter. Tall enough that if they had both been standing straight, it was possible that his muzzle would hit the centre of Kakashi’s chest. Bulky too, in a way that screamed that it was all muscle. The other was a more average size, maybe hitting him at the hip. Fur, a few shades lighter than the other, currently ruffled over sleeker muscle in agitation.
The third wolf’s head swung around, taking everything in as they hunched defensively further away from the other two, closer to the edge of the cliff, making it harder for Kakashi to his size. Grey eyes stopped on the others briefly, before turning narrow-eyed focus on Kakashi.
“You summoned us?” The russet asked, cautious confusion suffusing every word. The low voice seemed to catch the greys’ attention too, pulling their attention away from studying Kakashi.
“It’s not like there’s anyone else here,” snapped the smaller grey, voice an alto compared to the bass and baritone of the other two.
Kakashi just continued to blink at them in confusion.
“I think I did,” Kakashi answered faintly, before any of them could say anything else.
“I’ve never been summoned before,” the russet blinked slowly, ignoring the others as he relaxed his posture, still looking at Kakashi with curiosity. “You’re a Hatake?”
Kakashi just nodded dumbly, while the other two seem to snort at them both.
“Couldn’t you tell?” The smaller grey stared at the brown. “That chakra isn’t exactly subtle.”
Kakashi winced. She was right, Hatake chakra wasn’t hard to pick out when not supressed. It was so unique that he hadn’t come across anything like it since his father, and Kakashi had taken to habitually supressing his own signature.
In his shock, he must have let his chakra signature slip out, and he hadn’t even realised it. Something that hadn’t happened in years.
His father had spent a lot of time when he was younger explaining how clans differed from each other, specifically theirs, but he had spent years trying to suppress the memories. Every clan was different in various ways from civilians, they wouldn’t be clans otherwise. Though Konoha spent most of its focus on how they differed in their taught and specialised skills, it really mattered in their very biology.
The most obvious examples of clan biology were the Uchiha and the Hyuuga and their eyes. But for shinobi, biology also includes the chakra system, for example the fire that is so prominent in the Uchiha’s chakra it affects other parts of their bodies, such as making their mouth and throat more fire resistant. It was also known that, for those with scent tracking ability, a major tell of an Uchiha is fire underlying their personal scent.
For Hatakes, there were the enhanced senses of smell and hearing, but more prominently there was the unique white chakra. If that wasn’t enough it was also dominated by the element of lighting giving them their signature underlying scent of ozone.
“Our summoner is dead,” the larger grey growled. Not taking his gaze from Kakashi, who couldn’t suppress another wince.
The Grey Wolf contract was a unique in many ways. It allowed for variation in the subspecies summoned to fit a summoner, through their clans. It was also one of the few that was specific in the shinobi clans it would accept. A specificity with a purpose, as they were particular in the way that they will work with a summoner. The contract is signed and worked with from the early training of the summoner, with their summons bonding with them from a cub and remain working with each other so long as they both live, only being separated by the death the other. Only very rarely will a summon work with another after a summoner’s death, even then it will be with a close relative, or pack-mate, of their first in extreme circumstances.
“Sorry,” he mumbled, turning to look back over the edge of the cliff to avoid the eyes on him. “There was an accident and I was trying to call my pack.”
“What kind of accident?” The lighter voice of the smaller grey asked, sounding cautious again.
“Seal, space-time,” was all he could think to tell them, but gained shocked growls in three different tones.
Right, Kakashi thought vaguely. Seals are unusual enough after villages started sharing skills between shinobi.
“You smell like other humans, and domestics,” she prompted him in a tone that Kakashi had a hard time placing.
“I contracted with the Familiaris clan,” he murmured, addressing the domestics comment first and indicating himself with one hand before addressing the first. “The cubs.”
The cubs were waiting for him to get back.
He was in the past. In a time before Konoha. With the cubs.
His last comment seemed to shock his brain into working for all of ten seconds before stalling again.
He was the only one left to protect the cubs.
He was stuck with them.
A fur-covered paw lightly brushed the fingers of his right hand where they were exposed by his glove, startling him out of his panic. His head snapped around, visible eye still open as wide as possible, to stare at the russet who had moved to stand beside him.
“Cubs?” He prompted lowly, ducking his head to allow grey eyes to meet.
“Are they alright?” The other male asked, aggression lessening of the first time in the encounter as concern entered his tone.
“Three,” he nodded, maintaining eye contact with the russet who cocked a head and taking a deep breath before answering the other. “Just chakra exhaustion.”
“I’m Hayate,” The russet said after a moment of continued eye contact with Kakashi. “I don’t mind helping you out, you seem like you need it.”
Kakashi raised an eyebrow at that statement, but couldn’t bring himself to protest the assumption.
“Kakashi,” he offered instead. “Thank you.”
“I’m Kaori,” the smaller grey stepped forward to speak, before swinging her muzzle back at the larger. “That’s my brother, Daisuke. Our summoner loved cubs. If you have some, we’ll help too.”
“We turned up instead of your pack, we can work out what the problem was later.” Daisuke shrugged a little as he growled solemnly.
Sakura weakly struggled up through the darkness around her. It was suffocating and she couldn’t quite remember how she got there, but she knew she needed to check on something, someone.
The weird light coming from where Naruto crouched. Sasuke-kun falling to one knee in the light. A sharp tug at her dress and hair, and a less physical tug within her as the light reached her and darkness.
Sakura struggled to open her eyes, trying to figure out where the hoarse moan ringing in her ears was coming from.
“Sakura-chan!” A soft, worried voice called, joined by a hand shaking her shoulder. “Sakura-chan, are you awake?”
She tried to answer. Annoyed that it wasn’t a voice she wanted to hear, but the only sound to follow the question was a groan.
Oh, it’s me, she thought as she pushed her eyes open against what felt like academy training weights holding them closed.
“Sakura-chan?” She could hear the worry in that voice as she finally managed to win the fight with her eyelids. She almost regretted fighting so hard though when the first thing to come into focus after she did was a worried mesh of yellow and orange.
“Nar…” she started, but the rest of the name fell away into breathy silence in her dry throat.
“Right, water,” Naruto looked around quickly before standing and hurrying away toward the crackling light behind him. “Sensei said to make sure you drink and eat something. Don’t move.”
She could barely keep her eyes open, but held her tongue on the sarcastic question that wanted to make its way out. Instead, she used her reserves to try and take in what she could of their surroundings. Uneven rock was picked out above her in flickering light and shadows, while the scents of dirt and damp were almost overwhelmed by the those of wood smoke and some kind of stew.
“Here,” Naruto said as he came back to lean over her again, slipping his hand under her neck and pulling her up slightly. “I think this is how Sensei did it,” he muttered as he lifted a water bottle to her lips to allow her to drink. It took all the discipline she had to take the small sips she remembered her academy senseis in all their survival classes had all told them were vital when they hadn’t drunk in a long time, or didn’t know how long since their last drink.
“Sasuke-kun?” she asked after she turned away, feeling like she had drunk enough for now.
“Your other side,” he replied, as he let her back down to her pillow, which in turn allowed her to turn in the direction he indicated to check as he continued. “He woke up this morning, I think it was, while Sensei was here. Must have fallen asleep again after Sensei sent me to sleep.”
“What happened? He okay?” She asked, taking in the pale face showing between the messy black hair and the blanket of his bed roll.
“Sensei said it was chakra exhaustion, like he had after the first fight with Zabuza,” Naruto answered as he clanked around doing whatever he was doing near the fire. “He said you both just need sleep, food and rest.”
Reassured that Sasuke-kun wasn’t in serious danger right now, she turned to watch her blond teammate. Realising as she did, that he was being unusually subdued. He was stirring a pot near the fire and using his other hand to pull a bowl toward him, before he ladled a portion of whatever was in the pot into it.
“What happened? Where are we? How long have we been here?” she asked, curious now about what happened after she passed out. Then, realising someone was missing despite Naruto mentioning him more than once. “Where is Kakashi-sensei?”
“He said he was checking the perimeter and gathering wood,” He answered her last question first, as he moved back toward her with the bowl. He helped her up, grabbing extra material to set behind her to help keep her upright. He handed her the bowl before speaking again. “The light thing happened, then all of you fell, then there was this red light and the next thing I remember is waking up with Sensei carrying us all through the trees. Then he found this big cliff thing and this cave and had me prank the tunnel so there would be sound. I think it might be sometime around mid-afternoon, so we’ve been here a day.”
Sakura really tried to keep up with and process the rambling explanation as she ate, but it was difficult.
“I didn’t think we were so far from the Village,” Sakura mumbled to herself after finishing the bowl silently. “Why didn’t he take us back there, if he was carrying us anyway?”
“I dunno,” Naruto whispered back, looking like he was thinking back on something. “But Sensei was acting…”
He cut off at a grumbling groan from Sakura’s right, followed by a shifting of fabric.
“Bastard!” Naruto continued suddenly, at a volume Sakura was more used to him using. “You awake yet, lazy ass.”
“Sasuke-kun!” Sakura called excitedly, spinning as fast as she could to look at the boy. Not the best idea in her current state, she realised as the world spun around her in response. Then, realising what Naruto had just said, turned back more slowly to berate him for his disrespect. “Don’t call him that, Idiot!”
“Shut up,” groaned the Uchiha, before either of them could say anything else, cracked his eyes open and turned slowly to his left to look at them.
“Don’t move!” Naruto yelled quickly when Sasuke-kun shuffled around to try and get an arm beneath himself in order to lever himself up. “Give me a sec to finish with Sakura-chan and I’ll help. But Sensei said I wasn’t allowed to let you move.”
“Hn,” Sasuke just grunted in response but stilled as Naruto took Sakura’s bowl and helped her lay down again before wandering back to the fire and filled another. When he had collected everything he moved around to Sasuke’s right, helped him to sit up and offered him the same water bottle that he had offered her earlier.
Sakura managed to fight down her blush at the idea of an indirect kiss with Sasuke-kun in time for Naruto to take it back and hand him the bowl.
“Where is he?” Sasuke asked between bites, taking in the camp while Naruto and Sakura watched him closely. There was only one ‘he’ they could be talking about, so Sakura settled in for much of a repeat of information for Sasuke-kun’s benefit as he gathered any information that he may have missed.
“Perimeter and firewood,” Naruto answered succinctly.
“Was he still….?” Sasuke stopped his question vaguely, but Naruto seemed to understand what he meant.
Sakura watched the conversation in fascination. It was so odd that they seemed to be so serious and neither one trying to pick a fight. She realised that the situation they were in was not good, but this alone told her that she was missing something. Possibly something big.
“I think it’s sometime after mid-afternoon,” Naruto offered as Sasuke took another bite and nodded.
“Did he say anything else?” Sakura asked quietly after they both fell silent, deciding she may as well follow Sasuke-kun’s lead and gather as much information as possible. Both boy’s heads snapped in her direction, as if they had forgotten she was awake too. She swallowed back the insecurity that squeezed her throat at that thought of being forgotten so easily, before looking directly at Naruto and clarifying. “You said that Sensei told you to make sure we were fed and didn’t move. Did he say anything else?”
“Uh, not really,” Naruto answered, tilting his head in thought. “Just that and that if the pranks go off in the tunnels to take you two and run. He’d signal if it was him.”
“Signal?” Sasuke perked at that, pressing his empty bowl into Naruto’s stomach so he would take it. “What signal?”
If Sakura was honest, she was also interested in the answer. They had covered signal systems in the academy and she had found them really interesting. There were general Konoha ones for temporary teams but long-term teams tended to build their own for their own strengths. It had made her excited about the idea of coming up with one for a team. but they had yet to sit down and work one out yet.
“Uh, howls,” Naruto told them. “Long for safe, short for move.”
“Howls?” Sasuke looked at Naruto, nose wrinkling in obvious confusion. “I guess it’s simple enough but I’ve never heard of that one before.”
“It’s not one of the general signals,” Sakura murmured absently, thinking it over before a thought hit her. “Maybe it’s part of a clan system.”
“Clan system?” Sasuke snapped his attention back to her, glaring as he asked. “Why would you say that?”
“Hatake is on the list of official Konoha clans,” Sakura looked between them both confused as they looked at her in disbelief. “You didn’t know?”
They both shook their heads in answer still looking at her with the same confused expression.
“The only time they mentioned any clans in the academy were in the weird basic history classes,” Sasuke murmured. “I don’t remember any Hatakes on the tests.”
“There was this game that Ino’s dad taught us when we were really little,” Sakura tried to explain while looking at Sasuke in confusion. “Well, he taught Ino, then they both taught me. But we’d play it with Shikamaru and Choji when I was there for their forced playdate things too. We had all this information on each of the clans on the official list, like name and what made them a clan rather than a family and the current clan heads, unless they were down to a family or less. Then we had to match it all together with the clan and things like that. I thought it was a clan thing.”
Sakura shrugged uncomfortably at them as they continued to stare at her with matching expressions.
“We didn’t play anything like that,” Sasuke said slowly, still staring at her. “But we did learn that clan ways weren’t taught outside the clan.”
“But if there aren’t many members left, they sometimes take students to pass on techniques that can be used by others,” Naruto protested, causing both of the others to look at him strangely. He crossed his arms tightly over his chest at their reaction and shrugged awkwardly before continuing. “Iruka-sensei mentioned it when he was talking about explosive tags and stuff. He told me, when he was showing me some of his prank seals, that he had been taught by someone who had been taught by someone who was the one of the last of a clan who specialised in that stuff. Like a legacy or something.”
Sakura looked up at the ceiling, ignoring both Sasuke’s reaction to that revelation and the tension that had taken over the cave since the subject of clans had been raised. She thought it over with the information from the game she had played so often as a child. It was hard to remember everything, she hadn’t played in years.
“We never had to learn the Hatake clan leader,” she told the ceiling quietly, aware that the sudden stillness to that side indicated that they had heard her. “That meant usually meant they had died out, or were in the process of dying out and down to, like, one family.”
“That still doesn’t mean it’s a clan system,” Sasuke insisted. “It could have just been a team system.”
“Maybe,” Sakura conceded, turning back to look at the two of them just as Sasuke started to sway where he sat and Naruto quickly helped him to lay down again. “But it would still have been built with Sensei in mind.”
This only got her confused looks again.
“The Hatake were a Wild clan,” she explained.
“A what clan?” Naruto asked.
“Something about a particular affinity to the wild, or a creature, I think,” Sakura answered, pushing through her own exhaustion and trying to think back. “Ino’s dad just explained it by telling us to look at the Inuzuka and the Aburame, they’re Wild clans too.”
“Like, Kiba with Akamaru and Shino with his bugs,” Naruto said.
“Yeah, like that,” Sakura said, hoping she was actually right about that interpretation. “I think I remember that the Hatake and the Inuzuka had a few similarities, like they were distant cousins or intermarried a lot, or something. They were mainly associated with wolves, but Sensei had those dogs back in Wave so maybe they had those too. It’s been a long time since I played, so I might have gotten something wrong.”
“Hn,” Sasuke grunted. Sakura stared at him between the lengthening darkness of each of her blinks as she tried to understand what he meant but all she got was that his eyes were closed.
“We can ask Sensei later,” Naruto said, clapping his hands before standing and wandering back to the fire. “He should be back soon.”
“I can…” Sasuke started to shuffle around as if trying to sit again.
“No,” Naruto immediately cut him off loudly. “Sensei said you need rest to recover.”
Sakura sighed and allowed her eyes to flutter closed at the sound of a growl beside her. She let the words fall from her focus, a familiar skill she had developed in the academy when she was too preoccupied to get involved in the antics of her class.
So much for them not fighting, she thought sleepily as she started to float vaguely in the darkness to the lullaby of familiar sound.
She didn’t know how long she floated there, but it was long enough for her lullaby to fall silent. Then, a loud crash startled her back to the cave.
So, as a quick heads up that updates might start getting really patchy again. My life is very soon going to start being overtaken by deadlines, because I'm a crazy person who allows themselves to be talked into overloading. I'm going to get another one up before it starts up, but I can't make any promises.
When the Bastard had finally stopped arguing and closed his eyes, Naruto had been relieved. But he thinks he might prefer the stubborn insistence to the silence that had returned when he did. There had been too much silence since they had gotten here and it reminded him that he was mostly alone again, in charge of everyone’s safety, and this time he wouldn’t have Sensei to call on if something happened.
So, he started to mess around with the last of the stew to distract himself. Which had just left him hungry and wondering if he could have some more.
Then a massive crash came from the passage that Sensei had left through.
He shot to his feet before he fully registered the sound. Heart in his throat, he focused his hearing down the passage, waiting for the signal that it was just Sensei tripping over one of his pranks and needed help getting out of it.
When seconds passed and he only caught a faint growl, he couldn’t wait any longer. Sensei’s instructions had been clear.
After everything that had happened since they left the village, Naruto didn’t really want to know why Sensei had been so insistent that they run.
“Com’on,” Naruto grunted, jumping to Sakura-chan’s side as she struggled, barely wake, to push herself up. He pulled her over his shoulder quickly, glad he and Sensei had only removed the two’s shoes as they had settled them. Then he lifted his gaze check on the Bastard.
He had managed to get himself up to a crouch, feet still wrapped within the material of his bedroll and his left hand planted in front of him to stabilise help his swaying weight. His eyes were focused on the passage and his free hand was reaching for his kunai holster.
“Com’on,” Naruto urged again, reaching for the Bastard’s shoulder to ensure he had his attention.
“You go,” Sasuke scoffed, not moving his focus while he attempted to shrug Naruto off without losing his fragile balance. “I’m staying.”
Naruto growled in frustration, closing his grip tighter in the sleeve he had managed to get a hold of.
“Sensei said to leave and you can’t even stand right,” He hissed, the urgent need to move rushing through his veins. So, he tugged harshly on the cloth in his grip to ensure he had the Bastard’s attention and to prove his point when the other boy struggled to remain upright. “Com’on.”
He kept his hold as he stood and stepped toward the only passage that remained unused by anyone but him. As he got them all moving, he ignored both the bare foot that lodged itself in his stomach and the insistent tugging at his grip on the stumbling Uchiha.
“What was that?” Sakura-chan hissed. Her wiggling around on Naruto’s shoulder, finally succeeding in getting her hard knee in his ribs. This forced him to tighten his hold on her with his other hand to ensure he didn’t drop her as he gasped for breath. “What’s going on?”
“Prank went off, no signal,” he grunted as he struggled to keep them all moving. Before he finally got fed up with it all and snapped. “Stop it!”
“Oh,” Sakura-chan gasped as they finally made it across the cave and into the passage. Naruto thanked his luck that she had finally woken enough to understand the situation when she finally grabbed Naruto’s waist from behind and stilled.
“Careful,” Naruto muttered to the Bastard as he continued to pull him behind them. “Step where I step.”
It wasn’t until they were around the first bend in the passage and out of sight of the cave and beginning to lose the firelight, that the Bastard stopped struggling to get free. It took a few more steps before necessity caused Naruto to trust it was safe to let him go. He halted long enough to reach into his jacket to pull out the torch he had stashed in it earlier, turn it on and pass it up to the hand he had been using to secure Sakura-chan to his shoulder.
“Com’on,” he repeated as he set off into the newly lit tunnel. His now free hand allowed to slide into his kunai pouch and pull out a weapon.
“I don’t see why I couldn’t have stayed,” the Bastard grumbled from behind him.
Naruto ignored him, looking forward and mentally recalling the way his exploring and pranking the tunnels had led him to find to the exit. This one led to a hole in the ground at the top of the cliff. He had stuck his head out enough earlier to know it wasn’t far from the edge of a group of trees they could use as cover.
He may have been the dead-last of their academy class, and not understood a lot of the written work they had done, but if there was one thing he knew, it how to plan and memorise multiple escape routes quickly. A skill closely followed in his arsenal by knowing how to avoid pranks, especially ones he had set. He’d had enough practice groggily stumbling around the ones he had set in his apartment after one too many break-ins.
“Watch the back,” he told them instead of continuing the argument, remembering enough of the team formation roles from class to get that it was something that should be done.
“Hn,” the grunt was his only reply from either as he led them through the maze he had made of the route without any more hassle.
They were all silent as they made their way up the slope of the passage toward the exit, except for the sound of Sasuke’s bare feet slapping rock and occasional stumble.
Naruto stopped under the exit and quickly stowed his torch away, juggling everything around as he did while he waited for the Bastard to catch up. Then taking a firm hold of Sakura-chan lept up and out. Landing in a crouch, he shifted enough to set his kunai down and reach to assist Sasuke when Sakura-chan tensed suddenly on his shoulder.
He slowly turned to look over his other shoulder and stilled.
Kakashi assessed the three carefully, both relieved by the offered help and more than mildly suspicious of the ease in which it was offered. A lifetime as a shinobi didn’t do good things for you ability to trust.
On one hand, if everything he guessed was really true, he was going to need whatever help he could get to ensure the team’s survival in a world that was very different than they were all used to. If there really was no Konoha, there were no villages at all. Which meant everything relied on clans, traditions and allies, and despite all the lip service paid to respecting clan individuality thrown around in the village, they were Village Shinobi.
As such, he only knew how to interact with other clans, without causing major offense, with the mutual understanding of the Village between them. His father had attempted to ensure he was properly educated on his own clan history, but Kakashi had only ever been around, at most, five members of his own clan. The last of them had died two years before his father had.
He didn’t think the genin could be much help in this either. Sakura’s family were civilians for at least two generations and Naruto’s clan had been kept from him. Even if it had they had been long gone with their Village before he was born. The only one that could possibly have had any knowledge in dealing with clans would have been Sasuke, but Kakashi had had enough interaction with the Uchiha to make a good guess about how they would react to a Sharingan in someone outside their clan register, or permission. As it was, they currently had three, so they couldn’t risk it.
He also wasn’t even sure he would be able to work out how far back they were, what with his fast-tracked route through the academy and what he knew of the censored nature of their history course.
On the other hand, Kakashi was a little surprised that, given the situation, these three would not ask for more information first, or even acted more suspicious about it all.
Then he remembered everything he had heard, and read, of his clan history and their history with their summons. He remembered the reactions he had witnessed of various Inuzuka (who hadn’t been as historically vicious or specific as the Hatake) to a child in danger. The way they hadn’t ever questioned his presence when he had wandered into their compound with his pack on his worst days.
Right, he thought wryly, taking a deep breath. Maybe not so surprising.
“Thank you,” he repeated, nodding at Daisuke and pushing himself out of his crouch. Rolling his shoulders, he allowed his senses to stretch out beyond the small circle it had contracted to in his shock.
“So,” Kaori shrugged his gratitude off and continued. “Where are they?”
Kakashi’s mind still bulked at revealing any information about the still vulnerable cubs to someone he didn’t know and had no loyalty to Konoha, even as everything he knew about the circumstance he’d found himself in told him it was alright to do so. Mentally, or instinctually understanding something didn’t quickly overrule a lifetime of paranoia.
He forced himself to take another deep breath and remind himself that Konoha didn’t exist here, but the two major clan loyalties the Wolves held were Konohan.
He was a Hatake, and even if he wasn’t known to the clan here, they wouldn’t betray him, and his, so long as he did not threaten theirs. Packs occasionally roamed away from the clan after all, but all stayed true to that rule. Kakashi was recognisable enough as one of them, so they would accept it as the wolves were doing now.
“In a cave,” he finally told them, pointing to the rock beneath him. “One’s a trapper, he got the passages in and out well covered when we stopped. I left him in charge. The other two were pretty exhausted. One woke briefly this morning, the other hadn’t by the time I left.”
He held his breath as he watched them take that in, nodding in understanding.
“Why are you up here?” Hayate asked.
“We were running out of firewood and I wasn’t in any condition for a perimeter check when we stopped,” he answered truthfully. When he continued, he pointed in the directions as he mentioned them. “Came out of a passage in the cliff. Ran the bottom edge along the tree line, when I hit the end, I climbed and did the same up here. Stopped for a rest, realised where I was and tried to call my pack.”
“Realised where you were?” Daisuke rumbled curiously, stepping forward slightly.
“It’s different from how I remember it.” Kakashi answered slowly after a moment trying to think of how to phrase it. He turned to ensure he met golden eyes with his before he emphasised. “Very different.”
Kakashi isn’t sure what the wolf saw in his eye when he spoke but golden eyes widened slightly.
“Okay,” was whispered in response, dropping the subject for the time being.
“What’s the plan?” Hayate asked as he sat at Kakashi’s feet, looking up at him and ignoring the other’s scepticism.
“Really?” Kaori scoffed at him.
“Well, the perimeter still needs to be finished and someone needs to check the cubs. I meant, how are we going to split this?” Hayate replied conversationally. “He summoned us and knows the most about the situation, so he calls the shots. That is how this works right?”
“It might help if you could clarify your specialties,” Kakashi interrupted, stomach sinking at the familiar downward spiral he could see that conversation taking. “I could guess but I’m more used to assessing dogs.”
“I was our summoner’s main heavy combat summon,” Daisuke spoke up first, after a moment of silence and shared glances, while his sister huffed a laugh. Not a surprise to Kakashi given his size, strength over speed. “I can track if I have to, but Kaori is a classified Tracker, so she’s better at it. She’s faster in pursuit too, but less versatile in full combat.”
Kaori preened at her brother’s praise, then snapped her muzzle at him for the last comment while Hayate yipped a laugh.
“Well, if Hayate has any kind of speed, Daisuke-nii can join the cubs and we can all finish the perimeter,” Kaori suggested slyly into the silence. “He’s so slow. And anyway, he’s still healing from last time.”
“Just stiff, brat,” Daisuke growled back, causing Hayate to continue laughing harder.
Right, siblings, Kakashi sighed, while not thinking about what that little extra tidbit of information implied about the two.
A good suggestion to examine, even if it was only given to annoy a sibling.
Kakashi couldn’t resist the urge to lightly swing out a foot to nudge Hayate when he continued chuckling. When the wolf looked up at him in response Kakashi just eye-smiled, hoping he’d get to the point and move the conversation on.
“I’m classified as a Pursuit Messenger,” he replied sheepishly when he calmed down enough to speak. “But I’m also fully trained as a speed combat summon and can track passably.”
Kakashi nodded and using the same training he had with his anbu squads, he put the team together in his head. For an accidental random group of summons, they were well rounded. As a team, each of their strengths picked up another’s weaknesses, and even more interestingly they’d fit well with the way he worked in the field.
“Kaori’s right,” he grimaced as he spoke. He’d worked with enough siblings to know how they could get when someone else sided with one. He stepped closer to the edge of the cliff and continued diplomatically before it could go south. “In their condition they won't be able to move fast, so a combat specialist to watch their backs is the best choice.”
“Fine,” Daisuke muttered grudgingly as the three of wolves followed him to the edge and looked over. “What do I need to know?”
“The passage I came out is there,” Kakashi pointed down at the exit. From their position it looked like nothing more than a crack in the rock. “My scent should be pretty easy to follow and take you easily to the camp-den. Be careful though, our trapper got it pretty good through there and has a history of catching highly experienced shinobi.”
Daisuke nodded as he followed Kakashi’s finger with his eyes.
“And if we get trouble, what can I expect?”
“Naruto, the trapper, was the only one awake when I left,” Kakashi explained, grimacing. “I left him in charge with instructions to run if they heard anything without a signal from me. Blond, orange jumpsuit, ridiculous reserves, decent stealth when he’s not distracted, but he’s easily distracted. Unpredictable.”
The three all seemed intrigued as he listed off his assessment, but he didn’t let them ask as he continued, still not entirely comfortable with having to give them a full combat assessment.
“The other two have extreme chakra exhaustion, so I don’t know what kind of help you’ll get from them. Sasuke, the dark-haired boy, could pull some shuriken or kunai if he’s awake, or he could throw out a fire jutsu and knock himself back out. I honestly don’t know what Sakura could do, pink hair, low reserves, high control, was still out when I left.”
“Signal?” Daisuke was now focussed on the cliff below, readying himself to move.
“Howls. Short for safe, long f…”
Kakashi was cut off by a faint crash sounding from beneath them, which automatically sent all four of them into defensive stances as they scanned the area below.
“What was that?” Hayate growled, not taking his eyes from the cliff below.
“Sound trap,” Kakashi hissed, assessing the distance the sound must have travelled. “The passage I came out of. Dammit!”
“The cubs?” Kaori growled.
“Change of plan,” Kakashi replied, quickly assessing the situation. “There were two other passages that led from the cave, I don’t know where one comes out, but the other is short and comes out a little that way. You two,” he indicated Kaori and Hayate before continuing, hoping he had assessed them correctly and they were following everything that he was telling them, “find them. You should have their scents from me, but if they don’t come out in a reasonable time, our scents should be a day old but follow them from there.” He stopped to get nods from the two before turning to Daisuke.
“You’re with me,” he told him before taking off in the direction of the tunnel.
Kakashi only slowed slightly as he reached the crack of the passage. Being careful to miss the traps he had logged on his way out and, hoping he had recognised them all, he reached to pull out his torch again.
“Be careful to follow my steps,” he called back softly, getting a deep yip in response as he flicked the torch on.
Oddly enough, it was as he ran as fast as he dared through that tunnel, worry and adrenaline running hot through his veins and a massive predator at his heels, that he felt the most settled he had felt since leaving Wave.
Daisuke was no Bull, but this he knew. Running with a canine who had promised him his help, comrades in possible danger and combat almost guaranteed to be imminent. This was a situation he knew, a state of being he had spent most of the last twenty years in.
Then suddenly, he caught it, and faltered. A scent, oddly familiar, but very much not. Ozone and rain-drenched earth, mixed with copper and rusty iron. Beside it a scent of mixed storm air and crushed leaves.
Kakashi slowed, looking forward at the sharp turn in the passage with trepidation. But the slower pace allowed him to better register the sound of soft growls and yips he had been hearing unconsciously, mixed now with the sound of scrambling claws on rock and the shifting of fabric, that he could now differentiate from their movements.
“Hmm,” Daisuke mumbled from behind him before using his muzzle to gently push Kakashi to the side to let him pass.
Kakashi quickly reached out to grab him by the scruff before he had taken more than two steps. Silently he nodded down to where the massive wolf, in his distraction, had been about to step right into one of the more obvious traps.
Maybe, if Kakashi had been a little less on edge, he might have found a little more of his usual amusement in watching a canine grimace. But as it was, he just raised his lone visible eyebrow in askance.
“Hello,” a tight voice called out before he could get answer. It was accompanied by a growl and a soft mutter Kakashi didn’t quite catch as it continued. “I know you’re there, your scent got a lot stronger and fresher. Show yourself.”
Daisuke swung his head back to meet Kakashi’s eye with his suddenly very wide gold ones. After a second, he slowly tilted his head, so Kakashi, guessing he had recognised something about the speaker but wanted to double check, nodded back.
The wolf stepped forward much more carefully than the last time, checking his surroundings with each step while Kakashi followed slightly behind until the grey reached the corner and stopped hunching down carefully. Slowly slinking forward, he poked his head out to look around it and suddenly barked a laugh.
Any thanks for the extra-quick update can be addressed to my mum, who asked for more after the last post and kicked me into gear. She was also nice enough to help me organise a new laptop after my last one finally decided it wouldn't put up with how much I was asking of it.
Also, another reminder that updates are probably going to start getting patchy from now.
Daisuke remained obviously amused when he pushed himself back to his full height, carefully double checked for traps and stepped casually around the corner.
Kakashi followed him cautiously. Curious about what he had seen to react that way, especially when annoyed and confused yipping greeted his appearance.
“Daisuke?” Asked the same voice that had called out before, confusion layered with something else in his tone. “Is that you?”
Kakashi reached the corner and stilled before losing the cover it provided.
“Runt,” Daisuke replied with a snort. Then turned to meet Kakashi’s eyes, tilting his head to indicate the passage before him.
Kakashi decided to trust that the wolf’s amusement and lack of aggression meant there wasn’t an imminent threat. Even as he acknowledged that it was obvious that the speaker at least knew the wolf. He slowly slid around the corner, senses alert and kunai held ready for quick use.
At the sight that greeted him, he couldn’t hold back his own snort. The amusement was joined by a swell of pride at the blond cub’s work.
Just in front of one of the offshoot passages, lay a pale, silver-haired figure, clad in ripped and dirty grey and red, and beside him a black wolf of a similar size to Hayate. Both strangers had obviously stepped straight into one of Naruto’s snare traps. Kakashi recognised the familiar rope knots that had caught many a chunin and jounin, both unwary and paranoid alike, over the years.
He remembered the first time he had returned from a long anbu infiltration that had ended abruptly to the village, to find the young Uzumaki had learned to use that particular trick. He had been exhausted, hopping the rooftop highway back to anbu HQ, when he’d almost tripped over a chunin he been particularly trying to avoid. He had over-heard the man in a conversation that had included some comments that Kakashi was self-aware enough could trigger his usually quite dormant temper. Said chunin had been lying across one of the lesser used rooftops, wrapped in rope knots that the Hatake hadn’t personally seen used since his Sensei and Kushina had died.
Looking down at what had once been their shared favourite trap seal, and one of a combination used in many of the Uzumaki woman’s pranks, had caused Kakashi to zone out for a time. Only to be brought back to the moment after the chunin had slowly gained enough of his courage back to insist the still masked anbu set him free. Which Kakashi had reluctantly done when he couldn’t find any reasonable excuse to leave him there.
The shifting of fabric on rock and dirt startled Kakashi back from his memories. The shinobi had rolled as far as he was able in his bonds to one side, revealing a familiar cross-hatched design on one ripped sleeve and staring intently at Daisuke.
Kakashi’s breath caught at the sight of the reminder of what he was dealing with.
“After Nanami-nee, I thought…” The bound Hatake’s voice was faint as he focused hard on Daisuke. The big wolf flinched at the mention of the name and looked quickly to, then away from, Kakashi, who until then had remained with his back to the passage wall.
Noting the wolf’s uncomfortableness with the topic of conversation, Kakashi started to step closer to the two bound figures and flicking his torch to assess their conditions and bonds.
“Kakashi,” Daisuke muttered tightly to get his attention. “Hatake Riku, our summoner’s younger cousin, and his main summon Ayumu.”
So, they do know each other, Kakashi noted absently as he turned to give Daisuke a raised his eyebrow and cocked head expression of askance.
“We trained them,” was the only verbal answer he got, though Daisuke’s head hung between his shoulders and solemn his eyes flicked between them all.
And that explained the earlier amusement. Kakashi could remember how much more tempting it was to laugh at all the anbu he had come across wrapped in those ropes, but most particularly those who he had been in charge of training.
The wolf’s words brought both captive’s focus over to Kakashi. The black started growling at him in suspicion, even as Kakashi turned back to his assessment and noticed the large dark patch on the Hatake’s loose kimono shirt that was much darker than the usual red of the clan colours. After a moment of continued study, he finally gave in to the insistent feeling of being assessed and looked up to meet the other Hatake’s eyes with his single one.
He was a just boy, Kakashi acknowledged as he finally allowed himself to assess his features. Young still for a Hatake running even a simple mission alone, from what he remembered of his father’s stories. Kakashi estimated him to be barely more than twenty, given the way his cheeks still held a failing grip on baby fat. Slightly glazed, light grey eyes ran Kakashi up and down as he continued scan his pale features up to where they met the distinctive silver hair. Most of the thick locks were cut a couple of inches from his scalp, except for a section curved around his right ear, which was longer but braided tightly to his scalp and held in red enamelled clasps.
A spike in the growl from Ayumu, pulled his attention in the direction of the black wolf. He met a pair of light green eyes glaring at him over the boy’s side, as the owner struggled against the ropes holding his legs to his body.
“Hatake Kakashi,” he held wolf’s eyes and deliberately stepped closer. Looking over the wolf for obvious injuries and upon finding none, turned back to Riku, who’s eyes had widened slightly.
“You’re the scent we were following,” the boy muttered as Kakashi stepped further forward to check more closely for any more possible wounds. He noted a few more over what he could see from both their positions, but none that emanated so much of the scent of rusted iron and copper as the one soaking his shirt. Riku’s eyes flicked to both wolves before he continued. “We thought we smelled another Hatake in the passages, that they could help.”
“Cubs,” Daisuke stated as Kakashi silently crouched, to get a better look at the boy’s wound.
The boy suddenly stilled, and eyes widened further at the revelation. While the black’s growl, which had been a constant rumble since they had noticed Kakashi’s presence, immediately cut off.
“I...I’m sorry, I didn’t realise...” Riku stumbled over his words as he relocated his voice and closed his eyes. “I swear, we didn’t think…”
“Your wound,” Kakashi cut him off before he could settle into a long ramble. “How bad?”
Before either of his captives could settle enough to answer, Daisuke wandered closer to assess the boy’s chest over Kakashi’s shoulder.
“He’s not wearing the colours,” Ayumu spoke for the first time, low tone suspicious and looking at Daisuke for answers.
“There was an accident,” Daisuke answered seriously, standing solidly behind Kakashi.
The jounin swallowed. Surprised, and touched, at the show of support from the summon he had barely known an hour, to another who clearly trusted the big wolf. Especially given what he had put together about the summon’s circumstances and his initial hostile reaction to Kakashi, not to mention how little Kakashi had explained about what had happened.
“It would have made things difficult,” he stated vaguely. A truth on multiple levels instead of allowing himself to think too hard on what that might mean, or how exactly what he was saying was true. “They weren’t well respected.”
His brain then chose to politely remind him that he was technically wearing the Uzumaki clan symbol and he would have to do something about his sleeves and vest, to which he grimaced.
“It’s not great,” Riku ignored the current topic and answered Kakashi’s earlier question instead. “Lost a bit of blood and we’re both exhausted.”
Kakashi looked over them both again, noting the usual markers that corroborated the boy’s words. He turned to check Daisuke’s reaction, and getting a small nod from him, reached out to carefully start cutting through Riku’s bonds as Ayumu started to speak.
“We saw an opening in the cliff and figured it would be safe enough to stop, rest and properly look at that,” the wolf directed his explanation at Daisuke but nodded in the direction of Riku as he spoke. Kakashi carefully worked not to aggravate any wounds he came across while he freed the boy. “When we caught his scent, we thought we might be able to get some help.”
“The scent was getting stronger, then suddenly there was a crash and we were like this,” Riku finished, gingerly rubbing at parts he could now reach for circulation as Kakashi cut the last section of rope to free him.
Kakashi reached out to gently clasp his shoulder before turning to work on Ayumu’s ropes.
“Don’t be too embarrassed,” he told him gruffly as he worked. “Naruto’s caught more experienced and paranoid shinobi than you in these in broad daylight.”
This got a loud snort from Daisuke, while the other two looked at him with confusion.
“The cub?” the big wolf said sceptically. “I know you said he handled these and was good. But really?”
Kakashi gave him a flat look.
“I once saw a shinobi who had worked in the field for more than forty years, alongside one of the best trained protection squads I’ve ever seen, walk into a room Naruto had been caught coming out of covered in evidence of what he had been doing. They all left the room less than three minutes later swearing and covered in multicoloured paint and feathers.”
That statement gained him three sets of disbelieving eyes on him as he cut through the last of the ropes and sat back on his heels.
“They were all well aware of what he was capable of, both from reputation and experience,” Kakashi continued when they all continued to stare.
A moment’s silence was observed as they processed this before a round of surprised barked laughter left them all. This was followed quickly by a small whine of pain as Riku brought a hand up to his chest, putting pressure on where Kakashi assumed the wound sat.
“Can you walk?” He asked as he stood, looking down the passage in the direction of the camp, anxious to be moving.
“I guess,” Riku answered as he pushed himself up unsteadily, hand still over his chest.
“We’ll get you to camp, should be safer there to look that over,” Kakashi told them. The need to see the cubs, to ensure they were safe, that he had pushed back while dealing with his discovery rising back to the surface. If these two could get through his interrupted perimeter check, who else could have slipped through?
Even as his adrenaline started running again, he couldn’t shake the need to comment wryly. “Try not to trip over anything else.”
Daisuke gave a short snort as Kakashi turned and started leading the way back to the camp, slower than they had taken from the entrance to the point they had found the two.
The older man was acutely aware the entire walk that strangers were at his back, their eyes bearing into the target the Uzumaki symbol made on the back of his flak jacket. Even while his instincts and sense of smell were telling him he was surrounded by kin and safety. It was an odd dichotomy.
Just in case something had happened, or they hadn’t followed the orders he had left with Naruto before he left, he gave a short howl to signal that it was safe as they started down the last stretch of passage before the last turn before the cave they had set up camp in.
Kakashi knew even as they cautiously took the turn that the cubs had listened their familiar scents still strong enough that they had left very recently but dispersed enough to be gone.
The flicker of light from the dying fire greeted them, so Kakashi flicked off his torch and stowed it again.
“Set yourself up,” Kakashi told them as he wandered into the cave, flicking his free hand around the cave as he slowly circled it. The cubs had left in a hurry, everything but them was still where they were when he had left. Including, he noted beside the two of the cub’s bedrolls, their sandals.
When he reached the entrance to the one passage he had yet to check and ran across the mingled scents of the cubs, mixed with worry, annoyance and frustration, he fought the urge to run after them. To bring them back to the safety of the den.
But he was also oddly happy that they had followed his orders. Even if it was a false alarm, it was still a good test that they were actually capable of it, something he often doubted. And them doing so now would be even more important in the coming days.
As much as his instincts screamed at him to go after the cubs, he had other things he needed to sort out first. The kind of things, that if sorted out in a way deemed acceptable, could gift their small pack with the protection of connections.
So, he needed to trust that Kaori and Hayate would be able to find them. He took a deep breath and turned back to the cave.
Daisuke was wandering the camp, looking everything over and checking for scents.
Kakashi was glad to note that Riku and Ayumu had set up a bedroll near the wall of the cave on the opposite side of the camp from where the cubs’ bedrolls still lay. They were sitting on it, allowing Riku to lean on the wall for support and looking longingly at the pot that still sat near the fire from where the scent of the rough stew still permeated the camp.
“Do you have a bowl?” Kakashi asked, wandering closer to the fire to throw the last of the original pile of wood onto the fire. The boy startled before quickly unsealing a small bowl from the same scroll he had pulled the bedroll from as Kakashi put the pot a little closer to the fire and unsealed some of the wood he had picked up on his run, before sauntering closer the younger Hatake.
“Shirt,” he said as he grabbed the bowl and turned away again.
“What?” Riku asked in confusion.
“Take your shirt off so we can deal with that wound,” Kakashi clarified casually, much more so than he felt, filling the bowl with the last of the stew.
When there was no sound of movement behind him, he turned to glare at the boy.
“I want to get it dealt with before you bleed out so I can go collect the cubs,” he said dismissively.
The boy hastened to do as he asked, hissing and wincing with the movements. Kakashi made a detour to his own bedroll to pick up an extra scroll of medical supplies and a water bottle on the way to the boy’s side.
“You sure?” Daisuke grumbled from where he had stopped, close to the cubs’ exit passage, looking down it intently.
“They know not to freeze under pressure,” Kakashi murmured, thinking back on how much they had learnt since leaving the village. He waited, quite patiently in his opinion, for Riku to pull off a chakra-mesh undershirt in order to hand him his bowl. “You said your sister is a decent tracker and Hayate seemed confident enough in his combat ability. We just have to trust that they find them first.”
“Sister?” Ayumu asked, looking between Kakashi and Daisuke. As Riku started to inhale the food, watching the conversation intently. “Kaori?”
“Hmm,” Kakashi affirmed as he took in his now clear view of the large slash across Riku’s chest. From just under his right armpit to just below the last of his left ribs. Deep enough to be bleeding profusely, not deep enough to damage much more than the skin.
“She’s more than a decent tracker,” Ayumu snorted lightly before he turned to look at his summoner and flinched. “A minor cut?” he growled.
Kakashi locked eyes with the other Hatake as he sank down beside him.
“I may had exaggerated a bit,” he halted his shovelling of food in his mouth and smiled sheepishly.
Kakashi couldn’t hold in a snort at them, wondering if this was what it had been like for his teammates when he had similar conversations with his own pack.
“Hold still a sec,” he muttered, reaching forward and tipped some of the water from the bottle over the wound to wash away some of the blood and check his initial assessment about the severity was correct.
Riku flinched and almost dropped what was left of his bowl of stew. Then tensed and allowed to water to flow.
After Kakashi was satisfied he had a proper understanding of what it was he was working with, he pulled a few supplies from the scroll and quickly flicked through the signs for a basic field-medic healing jutsu. He didn’t have the patience or the time to stitch the wound by hand at that moment, so he dealt with being watched curiously as the hand covered in green chakra ran slowly over the younger’s chest.
“Anything else that bad?” He asked swiftly as he finished as much as he could with his skill, proficiency and current reserves in those circumstances. Enough to ensure it would stop bleeding so much, was clean and was on the way to healing. But not enough to fully heal it.
When Riku shook his head in answer, Kakashi reached for a bandage to wrap it properly.
“Can you handle the rest?” He asked as he worked.
“Yeah,” was the mumbled answer he got as he finished. “They’re just minor cuts.”
This caused Ayumu to snap his muzzle at him and turn to Kakashi.
“I don’t smell as much blood on him now,” he confirmed. “We can handle them.”
“You two good to stay here?” Kakashi stood and moved around to the cubs’ beds, bending quickly to collect shoes as he passed them. “All the passages are as trapped as that one, so you should have enough warning of anyone coming.”
“Go find your cubs,” Riku said with a smile, “We’re good, and I kinda want to meet the cub that set those things.”
Kakashi nodded and set a gentle hand on Daisuke’s back as he reached his position at the mouth of the tunnel. The big grey having not moved entire time Kakashi had been working on Riku.
“Come on,” he muttered to the wolf, pulling his torch back out and stepping carefully into the tunnel to follow the familiar scents.
Wow guys, that was an insane response to the last chapter, it took me two sittings to answer all the comments. Thanks to everyone for giving me their feedback on my question and being respectful about it, even when they had valid issues with particular ideas. I did notice a little bit of a trend about worrying about OPness and bloodlines so I wrote a little thing (here) giving my thoughts on that.
Hope you enjoy this little more introspective chapter.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Sasuke casually leant against the passage wall when the Idiot jumped through the hole in the rock above them. He used the moment to shake away the dizziness that had started to descend faster on him while they travelled, frustrated that the Idiot had been right about what he could handle back at camp.
When he noticed a tanned hand lower into the passage, he started to step forward. He didn’t want to have to take it, but he wasn’t sure he was going to be able to jump through on his own.
Suddenly the hand was pulled back and there was a scrambling sound from above.
Sasuke peered up through the opening, tightening his grip on the kunai he had yet to put away and readying what strength he had to jump up to join his weaker teammates.
“Kakashi’s cubs?” A curious alto questioned from above.
Sasuke quickly judged the position of his teammates and the newcomer from the earlier sounds. He jumped to land in an unsteady crouch on the Idiot’s left, carefully placing himself where he could cover both the arm still holding their incapacitated teammate and the teammate herself.
He faced the newcomer and found himself face-to-face with not one, but two, of the largest wolves he had ever seen.
(Not that he had personally seen many actual wolves. The closest he had come to one were the Inuzuka’s ninken, though he did have some vague recollections of the dogs back in Wave. The ones that Sakura had mentioned earlier were apparently Kakashi-sensei’s.)
“Found the third,” the red-brown one said, cheerful baritone rumbling through the silence of the open space around them while he inspected the three genin. The slightly smaller grey at his side seemed to roll its eyes and shoot him a look before speaking again.
“Kakashi sent us,” she said, proving herself to have been the first speaker.
“You’re not the summons from Wave,” Sakura spoke, voice wavering, from where she still hung from the Idiot’s shoulder.
Sasuke couldn’t help but feel a rush of relief that she was remaining level-headed enough to assess the situation like she had back in the cave and not saying anything unnecessary. He was struggling just attempting to maintain his balance and focus enough to be useful without the added annoyance of her usual behaviour.
“He said you had an accident,” the one Sasuke was pretty sure was male, rumbled and stepped forward, nose in the air. “He tried to call them and got us instead.”
“But they were dogs,” Sasuke could basically hear the way the Idiot was wrinkling his nose in confusion. “And you’re not.”
“Same species, different subspecies.”
“Well, mostly,” The two wolves both answered at the same time. The grey matter-of-fact while the red-brown almost sarcastically shrugged, something which gained him an odd look from his companion.
“We should get out of the open,” the male spoke to them again instead of answering the look. “Probably before that one collapses.”
He indicated Sasuke as he spoke, causing the boy to bristle at the insinuation that he wasn’t strong enough to remain as he was.
“Right,” the female said as she looked around them. “To the trees.”
Sasuke shared a quick look with his teammates at the order, still not entirely sure what to make of the two unknown wolves. Sakura just stared back, blinking slowly, but Naruto gave him a small nod.
“Defensible,” he muttered, cerulean eyes darting over the open ground he could cover without moving his head. “Branches. Back to trunk.”
Sasuke nodded, ignoring his shaking legs. He turned and bolted to the tree-line behind them, sensing the blond move in tandem with him. The feeling of syncrosity they had shared in Wave a strange comfort in his vulnerable state.
He sensed the wolves realising what they were doing and following quickly just as the three of them reached the tree-line and started to ready himself for using a large portion his current energy reserves for the bound upwards.
Without speaking, he and Naruto both sprang up onto the thick branches of the third tree from the edge. Climbing another few up to get to a sturdy vee of branches to brace Sakura if she were to pass out again, Naruto settled her with her back to the trunk then climbed down to settle just below her. Sasuke collapsed on a branch on the opposite side of the tree, resettling the kunai in his hand again. He’d take the chance to start conserving his energy again as they waited.
The two unknown wolves stopped at the base of the tree and looked up at them.
“Well, I guess that works,” the male said before he settled in within the roots at right angles to Naruto and Sasuke’s positions.
“Really?” The grey asked as she did the same on the other side of the tree.
The other didn’t answer the rather sarcastic question, instead letting silence fall as they all settled in to wait for Kakashi-sensei.
He’d come for them when he could and then he’d verify the wolves’ story.
Kakashi slowed as he noticed another light up ahead. One that proved to be coming from an opening in the rock roof of the tunnel, large enough to be used as an exit.
He and Daisuke had been making slow, steady progress through the twisting and rising tunnels around more of Naruto’s traps for a while following an unchanging scent trail. But the potent scent of wary concern had seeped into the air stronger up ahead. A fragrance that was worrying in itself, but it was also touched with the scent of heavy ash and quick sparks of lightning.
If something had their Uchiha directing worry towards the others, rather than his usual arrogant frustration, it paid to be cautious.
“Up?” Daisuke asked, almost sub-vocally, bringing the jounin’s attention back to his companion. He had come up beside Kakashi and was peering up at the opening in the rock.
Kakashi flicked the big wolf a quick one-eyed glance and slowly nodded, scanning for a clear launching point. Finding one, he quickly re-stowed his torch once again, rechecking his gear as he did. He then held out three fingers and began counting them down.
As he curled the last finger, he sprang forward, onto the clear patch of rock and sprang up to crouch on one side of the hole. Less than a heartbeat later, Daisuke landed, ready to strike, beside him, facing and covering Kakashi’s exposed back.
Daisuke snorted as soon as his brain caught up with what his senses were processing and Kakashi relaxed with him.
“Close,” he said, scanning the open area before them.
“Very,” Daisuke answered, quietly. “Three deep.”
Kakashi nodded and turned on his heel, giving a short howl as he bounded in the direction of the cubs.
“Short,” his ears picked up the low grunted word as they moved, quickly followed by a louder voice yelling.
“Wasn’t short safe?” The cheerfully confused question from the base of the tree was almost lost in the scrambling from further up in the branches.
“It was,” Kakashi could almost hear Kaori rolling her eyes as he took to the branches and landed beside Sasuke just before the genin could take a leap to the next tree. Kakashi fought the urge to follow in her footsteps as he looked slightly upwards to Naruto, who had slung Sakura haphazardly over his shoulder.
“We might need to work on that,” he said lazily as he checked them all over for any further harm. “Short for safe, long for move.”
The dark glare Sasuke sent at Naruto when he processed this, was as obvious to Kakashi, despite his focus being elsewhere, as the accompanying growled scoff.
“Idiot!” the shrill yell, which caused Kakashi and the wolves below to all flinch, was quickly followed by Sakura’s closed fist wack into the blond’s lower back, making him yelp.
“Oh,” the blond murmured as he realised his mistake. “Oops.”
The jounin sighed at the reactions, it looked like they were back to normal interactions again.
“My fault,” he commented casually to stop them from taking it any further. Then when he wasn’t sure it worked, he eye-smiled and pointed downwards. “Down we go.”
He jumped back to the roots before they could stop him. Landing beside Kaori who had come around to Daisuke’s side once again, he met Hayate’s eyes.
“Suspicious, aren’t they?” the russet looked up as the cubs slowly got moving in order to follow him.
“They have their reasons,” Kakashi grimaced, as he thought about some of what those could be.
“Sensei?” Naruto asked curiously, blue eyes flicking over the three canines before shifting out to dart around the surrounding area.
“They said you sent them,” Sakura continued quickly instead. “But they aren’t dogs.”
“Mostly,” Hayate muttered with a smothered laugh.
“I sent them,” Kakashi assured them, sending Hayate a look. The comment interested him, making him curious to find out what he meant, but not enough to derail the conversation away from getting them back to cover quickly.
“What now?” Sasuke grunted cutting off whatever Sakura was going to say next, eyes also scanning the area from where he had landed to Naruto’s left.
“We should get back to camp,” Kakashi answered, glad both boys were willing to continue to act as shinobi should while in the field.
“What about the trap thing?” Kaori asked.
“Riku and Ayumu,” Daisuke answered his sister with gruff amusement.
The cubs quickly looked between the siblings at that that, confused.
“What?” Hayate had done the same and asked before the any of them found their voices.
“Hatake and summon,” Kakashi clarified quickly, still trying to get them moving as fast as they could. “It should be fine, he understood. But we should go.”
Get back to camp, quickly explain if they force it, then deal with the perimeter. That was his most immediate plan.
“So, we can go back?” Naruto asked, still quiet for him. He flicked his eyes around the group again before returning to his alert watching.
“Yes, we have a visitor, but he shouldn’t be too much of a danger for the moment,” Kakashi tried to reassure them, even as he made his own visual sweeps of their surroundings. He then looked to the blond and indicated where they had exited. “Lead us back.”
“Try not to trip over anything,” Daisuke huffed, side-checking Kaori and lumbering forward to take the lead beside Naruto after the boy nodded and began to move. They almost got to the edge of the tree-line before the massive wolf called back over his shoulder. “Make sure the ash boy doesn’t fall on his face.”
“Ash boy?” There was an odd choking laugh from beside Kakashi where Hayate had fallen in beside him, while the jounin used most of his self-control attempting not to face-palm. He was almost glad that the two of their party that had been the subject of the comment were too busy directing twin growls at the big grey as he bounded forward with Naruto and his not so willing passenger, who was giving the wolf her own offended glare.
“Don’t even think about it,” Kakashi muttered to the russet, watching the blond, the pinkette and the big grey jump down the hole. Sasuke and Kaori dashed from the tree-line to follow.
“But it fits,” Hayate nudged his fingers gently with his snout as he continued to muffle his laugh. “And it’s not like we’ve been properly introduced.”
Kakashi reluctantly conceded the point and didn’t say anything else as he quickly scanned the area again. They watched the Uchiha and the second grey drop into the hole before they too dashed from the tree-line to follow.
When the dropped down into the darker tunnel, they were greeted by the rest of them standing only far enough away to ensure a clear landing for those behind them. Naruto had pulled out his torch as he waited and held it in the hand securing Sakura to his shoulder. Sakura, for her part, had grabbed handfuls of the waist of the blond’s jacket to help keep herself secure.
Sasuke and Kaori, despite the former’s swaying balance, seemed about ready to launch themselves at Daisuke who was sitting, slightly amused but otherwise unconcerned, at Naruto’s side.
The big wolf’s reaction to what might otherwise have been a rather intimidating sight could have come from one, or more, of many reasons. The fact that one of those attempting to threaten him was barely remaining upright, and on his own feet through, visible force of will. The other was, as previously stated, his younger sister, which left it was safe to assume that he was overly used to her anger being directed at him. He had also obviously realised that there were currently at least three traps between him and his two would be assailants, something they seemed to have either not realised, or forgotten could be a possibility.
Though it could also have been due to the fact that the massive grey would have had to lean down in order to comfortably rest his head on Naruto’s currently unoccupied shoulder.
Kakashi sighed and once again pulled out his own torch.
“Maa, maa,” he tried to defuse the situation calmly, though he realised as it left his mouth that it sounded a lot like when he was deliberately messing with his fellow jounin. Not surprisingly, it only worked to get them to settle a little, so instead he met Naruto’s eyes and half nodded forward. “If we could get moving.”
“Watch your feet,” Daisuke warned again, a little less teasing in his voice as he stepped after the blond.
When Kaori and Sasuke just scoffed and started after them, Kakashi had to quickly dash forward to grab them both by the scruffs of their necks.
“Maybe you should listen to your brother sometimes,” Kakashi drawled, eye smiling as he looked directly at the wolf rather than his Uchiha who was blinking at him slowly. He nodded down at the ground, then when he was sure they had both figured out their problem, stretched out his arms to drop them both on the other side of the particularly complex bit of trap-work they had been about to step right onto. A very similar trap to the ones he had cut Riku and Ayumu out of less than an hour ago.
There was a rough yip of amusement in front of them at the byplay while Kakashi easily bypassed the trap. He looked back slightly to find Hayate cautiously sniffing them.
“Interesting,” he commented as he too bypassed the area and followed.
Kakashi waited until they had all formed a tighter traveling group before speaking again.
“Naruto’s work,” he said, flicking a few fingers at some of the other traps around them, then up the line to the front, preceding with what Hayate had obliquely requested to ensure he couldn’t use that excuse again. “In case you hadn’t figured it out, Uzumaki Naruto is the blond up there. On him is Haruno Sakura and ash boy,” he sent a short glare at Daisuke and Hayate to try and get his point across before continuing, “is Uchiha Sasuke.”
“Uchiha?!” The siblings exclaimed together, Daisuke looking back to better examine the dark boy.
“Well, I guess that explains the ash,” Kaori muttered after a long assessment, before she sent a searching look back at Kakashi.
“Uzumaki?” Hayate seemed to have been caught on a separate point than the others, tilting his head slightly, before he concluded softly. “That sounds familiar, but I can’t think where.”
Kakashi ignored the interruptions for now, realising he hadn’t been particularly clear in any of his explanations so far and not wanting to get into it. Instead, he continued with the introductions, for the cub’s benefit now.
“The big grey is Daisuke, the smaller is Kaori and this guy is Hayate,” he pointed lazily at each as he said their names, even though the only genin watching him was Sakura, while the other two continued to navigate the tunnel.
“Hi,” Naruto chirped at a little more of his normal volume now, head tilted slightly toward Daisuke.
The big wolf startled and gave the blond a long look at the acknowledgement, which had Sakura shuffling in her place, before giving him a slow nod and looking forward again.
They all fell into silence as they slowly made their way back to the camp. Which allowed Kakashi to use the time to assess the cubs now they were all awake.
Naruto was still acting unusually reserved for the most part, but he didn’t seem to be suffering from any injuries or exhaustion. It actually seemed that he was sensing the seriousness of the situation and reacting accordingly. Despite his small mix-up of the signals, which Kakashi should have realised was a possibility for a genin with only a quick explanation, he’d done pretty well as the second camp guard.
Sakura was obviously tired, not having even been able to walk for herself and not even causing a fuss about how she was being carried. Even though she seemed to be trying to make sense of the situation, she hadn’t quite gotten the hang of the kind of questions that were appropriate for situations in the field.
Sasuke stumbled almost silently after his two teammates, using most of his concentration again to stay upright. He seemed to have grasped most of the skills of being stuck in the field, except the ability to assess his own condition, and know, and acknowledge, when he can, and should, find ways to conserve energy.
How do I tell them? Kakashi wondered, almost tripping over his own feet as he realised that he was going to have to at some point soon. How do I explain it to anyone? It’s crazy, who will believe it? Especially back here. How are the cubs going to take finding out I don’t know if we can even go back?
The last thought made him stop for half a second, before he shook himself and kept walking. There was nothing he could do to change it now. He could only focus on keeping them all safe and try to get as many protection connections as possible.
Given the fact that the wolves had each recognised the boys’ clan names, he would also have to settle on a more believable story to give to anyone else to explain how they became his.
But those are things for later, he thought as he called a stop as they made the last turn onto the stretch of passage before the camp. Things that could be put off for the time being, while they dealt with immediate concerns of their current circumstances.
Kakashi stepped around the group, subtly rearranging their order to have Naruto take the rear and he could lead the way into the cave and make sure all was as it should be.
The wolves may have taken the relative oddness of their little pack without much fuss, but they had already promised him help with them. But Riku was a Hatake of a time that was pre-village and could have any reaction to non-Hatakes, especially without the explicit statement that they were his. Their clan may have had great disdain for the child-hunting practices of many of the other clans, but that didn’t mean they would stay their hands when an opposing clan sent children into the field to kill, or harm, one of theirs.
He slowly checked them all over to make sure they were ready and started the last stretch back their camp cave.
So, I am going to go collapse under all my deadline stuff now.
Another more introspective chapter, 'cause that is apparently what happens when I'm writing as stress relief.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Sakura quickly noted the light coming into the passage from somewhere ahead as it started to overwhelm the torchlight. Immediately assuming they were almost back to where they had set up camp and so within the safety of whatever Sensei had done to the tunnels that made all the boys and wolves so careful about where they were putting their feet, she relaxed.
So, she almost jumped up right off Naruto’s shoulder when she heard three sharp yips echo through the tunnel from somewhere ahead of them.
She couldn’t see anyone else’s reaction from where she was, looking back at the tunnel they had walked through twice now. Though she was able to feel the way Naruto’s muscles tensed beneath her before a deeper set of short yips sounded in answer from closer ahead. Sakura guessed from the big grey that had stayed ahead of them when Sensei had switched places in the line with her and Naruto after the last turn and the short stop they had made, while the red had stayed beside them at the back of the line.
It was only as those muscles beneath her relaxed that Sakura remembered how Sensei and the greys had mentioned a visitor during what little explanation they had gotten outside. The greys had even used names like they knew whoever it was and they wouldn’t be mixed up with anyone else.
Their group didn’t even seem to slow when another pattern of yips answered, instead it was just answered in a higher octave reply.
A signal system of some kind? Sakura wondered. Intrigued, she tried to wiggle around in an attempt to get a better view of what was happening up front.
“You found them?” A tired unfamiliar voice spoke ahead, just as she managed to push up enough to see Kakashi-sensei had stepped out into the fuller light of the cave. The big grey was using his bulk to block a large part of the entrance behind the Hatake, causing Sasuke-kun to stumble into him when he didn’t stop fast enough and grumble at the inconvenience.
“Hmm, Kaori and Hayate found them first,” Kakashi-sensei hummed, before he tilted his head slightly and stepped further forward, before he answered lightly. A second of silence as he obviously ran his one-eyed gaze over whoever it was. “You good?”
“Better than I was before,” the voice laughed quietly.
It was a nice voice, Sakura thought, exhausted, but friendly.
Not that she’d let that get her to lower her guard, not when there seemed to something Sensei was avoiding talking about, the fact that he had summoned wolves by accident and the way the wolves had reacted to her teammates names like they meant something different to what she was used to having them mean.
Inoichi-san had seemed friendly most of the time she had known him, but she knew he had been Head of T & I for years. All the work she had put into the information gathering project she had set herself in order to work out what that meant told her you had to be pretty ruthless to fill the role. At least everything she could find by getting her hands on the few books she could as a civilian academy student and what she could wheedle out of the shinobi kids in class.
“Do I get to meet them?”
Sakura noted the odd exchange that followed the question. Kakashi-sensei looking back at the big grey (Daisuke, she reminded herself, summons appreciated being referred to by name, they are sentient and so their own beings). In reply, he tilted his head and nodded slowly.
“Unless something big happened in the last few months,” he rumbled, slowly shifting sideways to clear the passage and allow them out into it. The smaller grey slipped right past him as he did, nose in the air and head moving quickly to take in the area. “If it had, he probably would have picked it up by now.”
Sasuke-kun stumbled sideways slightly with the wolf when he moved, a hand grasped tight around thick, grey fur and Naruto started up level with them when Kakashi-sensei nodded.
“Help them back to bed,” he told Naruto before he turned back around and stepped even further into the cave.
“Com’on,” Sakura heard Naruto murmur as he reached out the hand not keeping her steady to grasp Sasuke-kun’s sleeve and start back to where their bed-rolls still lay in the mess of fabric they had left them in. Sakura had watched him push himself after them both on the way out and back in. He’d been getting more unstable as they went and she was worried that he was worse off than they had all thought.
Maybe he hadn’t recovered as much they had all thought from that fight back in Wave, she thought focusing all the attention she could gather, in her own rather exhausted condition, on the dark-haired boy. They had all thought he was dead on that damn bridge! What if whatever had happened in that clearing had made it worse?
Daisuke stepped slowly forward with them on Sasuke-kun’s other side when his knuckles went white where he gripped that patch of fur and didn’t let go. Keeping pace with them and giving the Uchiha another pillar to remain upright without having to rely on the blond idiot like she was.
Sakura’s attention was fixed entirely on making sure that he wasn’t going to fall on their way across the cave to their bed-rolls that everything else around them was drowned out. Sasuke tripped onto his, slightly less gracefully than he usually was, which she could forgive him for, it had been a long, exhausting trip. Then Naruto dropped her onto hers and she pulled her fist backwards, ready to punch him for the indignity, when she noticed the strange man and wolf on the other side of camp.
That was about the moment she remembered that they weren’t alone.
She suddenly stilled and stared.
He was old, but her parents would still call him young. Like that cousin that got married just before she graduated, her mum and auntie had complained he was too young to be marrying, even though he had graduated from being an apprentice a couple of years before. Or maybe he was more like some of the chunin she saw around the village all the time.
Grr, her mind growled in frustration as it once again failed to mesh her ninja training and what her family said. She shook it off and returned to assessing the stranger. What did age mean outside the village anyway? That Haku guy couldn’t have been much older than them and he was really strong on his own.
The stranger’s grey eyes were wide and staring straight at them from the opposite wall. Hair a familiar shade of grey, only more controlled in its styling than their sensei’s, one side braided and clasped close to his head while the rest spiked a little less gravity-defyingly at a few inches long. He was shirtless, only bandages and a few scars covered his chest. His legs crossed comfortably, in torn red and grey fabric, on his bed-roll and using the wall as a support. A black wolf stretched out on its stomach and laying with its head on its paws beside him.
He blinked rapidly, then lifted his eyes to meet the big grey’s standing at Naruto’s back and snorted.
“Nanami-nee would have had my head for not seeing that coming,” he smiled wryly as he flicked his gaze at Sasuke-kun, over both the grey wolves and fixing it carefully on Kakashi-sensei. “These are yours?”
“Yes,” Sakura shivered at the growl in his voice. Looking over at him she realised that he had stopped near the fire, placing himself directly between them and the stranger.
“Okay,” the stranger said in a friendly tone, bowing his head slightly at the answer. He then continued in the same tone, not quite looking at them as he introduced himself and the fourth wolf. “I’m Hatake Riku, this is Ayumu.”
Sakura was both fascinated and slightly confused. Something wasn’t quite right here. She hadn’t heard of any other Hatake’s in the village, but on the other hand, she also hadn’t really heard of Kakashi-sensei until they had met. But he had been acting a bit weird about the introduction and shouldn’t this other Hatake already be aware of the makeup of one of his few remaining clanmates’ genin teams, or at least not be surprised about it. Especially when that team included Sasuke-kun, everyone in the village knew about Sasuke, he was really cool and special like that. Of course, they all also knew what Naruto looked like, at the very least, so they could yell at him when he did something bad again.
“Naruto, Sakura and Sasuke,” Kaori, the female wolf, nodded back at them from where she had come up beside Kakashi-sensei checking over the two opposite. “Still getting yourself in trouble, runt?”
Sakura startled again at the harsh bark of laughter from behind her at that, reminding her of just how close the massive predator there was. While the younger Hatake looked slightly shamefaced and the black beside him lifted his head and growled annoyed.
“We aren’t that much younger.”
This just gets a round of amused yips from the three wolves that had come into the cave with them, including the red, who had been wandering around sniffing at everything while the rest had been talking.
“Food?” He asked curiously instead of continuing the conversation, sniffing eagerly at the pot near the fire and looking up at Kakashi-sensei.
“Sensei?” Naruto asked cautiously from beside her, looking at Kakashi-sensei as he spoke. “I can...?”
The older man, who had seemed to relax a bit during the conversation turned around to flick is uncovered eye over the three of them and nodded slowly while the other Hatake perked up as well with the implied direction of their thoughts. He continued to watch eagerly as Naruto got up, wandered toward the fire and got to work with the equipment still lying about there.
Riku continued watching the blond closely until he suddenly jumped and turned back to look at Kakashi-sensei who had turned back to him and had tensed again.
“So,” Riku started, clearing his throat and ducking his head again. “Which one of them do I have to thank for my continuing run of humiliation in front of Daisuke?”
“The blond,” Daisuke rumbled confusing Sakura once again as he came around to settle down, stretched out on his belly, in the space between Sakura and Sasuke-kun, and the fire.
“Really?” The younger Hatake swung his gaze back to Naruto at the fire with a grin as Kakashi-sensei crouched down between them and started helping him with whatever he was doing. “That was pretty impressive.”
“You were running in the dark like an idiot,” Ayumu scoffed from beside him and lifted his head to give his summoner a look. “We’re lucky Daisuke and Kakashi showed up when they did to get us out.” A black muzzle stretched up to nudge at the bandages wrapped around his summoner’s chest and was gently brushed away by a pale hand.
“You were running right alongside him, weren’t you?” Kaori asked amused and was very obviously ignored.
“He fell for it?” Naruto asked. His head had popped up quickly with an excited smile at the subject, looking back and forward between them all before he landed on Kakashi-sensei.
“Yes,” was all Kakashi said in answer as he lifted up the pot and set it closer to the fire and stood up again.
“Got us good,” the other Hatake reaffirmed good naturedly. Kakashi-sensei assessed him for a long moment before turning his back on him and starting back toward Sakura and Sasuke-kun. “We weren’t going anywhere without help.”
Sakura relaxed inexplicably as the blond’s familiar loud laugh that rang through the cave, before she turned to Kakashi-sensei as he knelt and brought a glowing green hand to Sasuke-kun’s forehead.
“What happened, Kakashi-sensei?” Sakura decided to take the opportunity to ask, flicking a look around to the other Hatake, who was giving her an odd look right back. She tried to ignore how her instincts reacted to that look. They continued to tell her she was missing something big in all this and hurried to clarify specifically what she wanted to know. “We were in that clearing and then that light happened, then we woke up here.”
“I think we would all like some clear answers,” Hayate spoke up, from where he sat, piercing grey eyes settling on Kakashi-sensei’s back as he removed his hand from Sasuke-kun’s forehead but remained silent.
“It’s a long, complicated explanation,” he murmured as he shuffled around, ignoring all the eyes set on him and flicked his hands through a line of signs. When he was done, he set a hand against Sakura’s forehead, once again glowing green and sending a wash of slightly sparking coolness through her body. “We were interrupted before we could finish the perimeter and I’d rather get that done before we lose the light.”
He’s hiding something, Sakura’s angry inner voice stated while he the green-tinted light dimmed, and he pulled his hand back. She fought the urge to outwardly scowl at that thought. She didn’t like that he seemed to keep putting off answers to her questions.
“Where are we?” She asked instead of hounding him for him to get through the long and complicated explanation when the wolves and the other Hatake all seemed to find what he said as being reasonable.
“Somewhere we’ll be well-warned if someone comes after us,” he answered lightly, looking back to the passage that they had heard the crash from before their earlier flight.
She suppressed the growl of frustration that built in her at that non-answer but sulkily fell silent when he stood and prowled closer to the fire.
Kakashi was aware that he had managed to greatly annoy his sole kunoichi. But she had failed to turn the strength of her frustrated temper on anyone but Naruto since they left the village so he guessed that he was safe for now. He couldn’t bring himself to try and explain what was going on just yet. Not while he had yet to find the angle to give them.
“I guess that makes sense,” Hayate muttered, turning back to the cooking food. “We will expect it after.”
“Hmm,” Kakashi hummed as he stopped to look down at the pot. “Should be done soon, Naruto.”
The boy easily reached out to pick up all the bowls still near him and set them ready.
“You having more?” He asked the other Hatake as he turned to his own bed-roll to unseal some more bowls for the wolves.
“If I can?” He replied, looking curiously between them all.
“We should have enough for now,” Kakashi said, giving thanks to his habit of carrying sealed camp food enough to last a month out of village. If they ran too low before they figured something out, they could always rely on his random stash of ration bars in various equipment scrolls.
He detoured to pick up the younger man’s bowl on the way back to Naruto as the boy ladled food into the bowls he had. Then he waited until all the bowls were filled, the two of them had handed them out and settled down on their own bed-rolls to eat before he spoke again.
“What can you tell me about why you’re out here alone? And what can you tell me about what we’ll find out there?”
“Courier mission north, were on our way back when we were intercepted,” The other Hatake reported around shovelling food into his mouth again. “Didn’t recognise the crests but they managed to catch up to us before we caught wind of an Uchiha patrol.”
There was a quickly indrawn breath from the cubs’ position, causing Kakashi to send them a sharp look followed by a slight shake of his head in an attempt keep them silent and not interrupting. Sasuke was too busy watching the other Hatake closely to pay attention to the implied order but the other two must have caught it as they both reached out to grab the dark-haired boy before he could interrupt. One small dainty hand taking hold of a navy sleeve, and a tanned hand over his lower face, in an attempt to cover his mouth and missing the mark. The act earned them both death-glares from slightly red-tinted eyes, but the Uchiha didn’t say anything allowing Kakashi to breath a quiet sigh and turn back to the other Hatake.
“We ran our tails into them,” Riku continued shrugging slightly, the only acknowledgement he made to the byplay being a slight frown to his brow. “Managed to get away while they were distracted. Pretty sure we lost the patrol before we saw the caves in the cliff.”
“Uchiha territory?” Kakashi directed that question to anyone present from the current time as he tried to remember what little he had bothered to learn about Warring Clan territories.
This succeeded in gaining him some very interesting looks from everyone present. The gold star for best facial expression goes to Sasuke for the way he managed to convey confusion, demand, frustration and anger all at once.
“Last map I saw puts it as theirs until the river, then it’s the Senju’s,” Ayumu said slowly, head up and tilted slightly as he spoke, light green eyes bearing into Kakashi’s uncovered one.
“How recent was that map?” Kaori asked, rolling her eyes.
“A month, maybe two,” Ayumu replied with a small shrug.
“It should still be in date,” Riku pointed out grimly, setting his now empty bowl back down. “They usually keep their big territory battles to the cleared section of the border. This one usually only sees smaller patrol fights and hunts.”
The last word was spoken with a heavy helping of distain. At the reminder of the brutality of the times all but the cubs, who lacked the context to understand, flinched.
Kakashi nodded grimly and stood to take his own empty bowl back to the fire and then quickly checked his gear.
“I’ll stay with them,” Daisuke flicked his head back at the cubs, as Hayate and Kaori both stood with Kakashi, before he nudged his own empty bowl away from him with his muzzle.
“Back to plan A, huh?” Hayate quipped as he set his own bowl next to Kakashi’s.
“Slightly changed,” Kaori nodded quickly over at Riku and Ayumu as she dropped her own bowl and turned to collect her brother’s.
“He needs to rest,” Ayumu said with a slight nudge at Riku’s knee. “But I don’t mind lending a paw to Daisuke, he’s usually less of an ass.”
“Go,” Riku tilted his head to the closest exit, a slight smile on his lips as he set a hand to his summon’s head. “Your cubs won’t see any harm from us, clan pack is clan.”
Kakashi winced a little when he heard that half-familiar saying. He wished he could put his belief in it like that, but he remembered the last few times he had heard something like that and the final outcome.
Just because Wild Clans held to it didn’t mean that the other side would.
He tried to hide his reaction, knowing he hadn’t quite managed when he felt five sets of eyes locking on him at once. He shook his head and gave his biggest eye-smile to try and put them off, which just turned the gazes speculative.
“I guess we get this over with and we can get those answers,” Kakashi heard Hayate mutter as he turned toward the original entrance the team had used the previous day and stepped toward it.
“Try not to trip on anything,” Kakashi heard Daisuke call after them as he turned on his torch once again and they stepped into the passage.
Riku: "Warring Clans' Hatake" logic.
Wolves: "This Hatake is alone with cubs...has lots of problems" logic.
Sakura: "Civilian bratty "I want to know NOW"" logic, and not focusing well either.
Sasuke: Tired "I'm strong, I can work through this...did he just say UCHIHA PATROL...What the F..." logic.
Naruto: "He's nice and sensei says he's okay and he hasn't that about anyone who hasn't been yet...I still have to do this watch thing properly" logic.
Kakashi: "Hata...Kono...Hata...Jounin.../What logica was I using half a second ago, I got distracted by another" logic.
Well, life does like to throw curve balls at me after I say I'm going to get some more of this, doesn't it.
(I didn't realise until just now that it has been exactly a month since the last update, that was not planned.)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“I can do it!” The Uchiha growled as the blond trapper tried to help him to lie down beside the pink-haired girl.
“Jus’ trying to make sure you don’t fall on the rock,” the blond (Naruto, they had called him Naruto) hissed back, obviously frustrated at the continued argument.
Riku met Daisuke’s eyes and tried his best to keep himself from laughing.
It had taken some time after his strange clanmate had left for the blond to bully his packmates into lying down at all. They had been surprisingly stubborn in their insistence that they can stay up despite how obvious their exhaustion was.
Not that they seemed to be trying to hide it all that much, Riku realised as he flicked his gaze over the three again.
He kept his silence though, judging from their previous reaction to him reminding them he was there would make them fight harder. It had been amusing to have to listen to how hard Naruto had to fight to get them to listen despite being completely right on the reasons they should rest, though.
It was familiar and also strangely comforting to be sharing this simple amusement with Daisuke again.
Riku swallowed the weight that caught in his throat again, as it had each time he remembered the reason he hadn’t had that comradery for months.
He still trusted the big wolf. How could he not after all their history? It had been his unexpected presence, as much as the fact the older man who had cut him loose of the trap and lead him to the den was so obviously a Hatake, that had let Riku relax and focus on healing after they left him and Ayumu there to gather the cubs.
While Riku contemplated the events that got them there, the blond finally got both his exhausted packmates settled. He then wandered over the fire where he started fidgeting his way through the clean-up of their meal.
Riku looked away from the boy when a shuffling movement started up beside him signalling Ayumu shifting and resettling himself. The Hatake settled a hand among black fur when a familiar heavy head settled back on his lap.
Now his wounds had been tended and he had been fed and rested a little, he could turn his thoughts to what little he knew about the little pack he has run into.
He tried to keep his eyes on the blond at the fire or the tunnel entrances, rather than the more vulnerable cubs opposite. The soft warning growl that had come from Kakashi when he had focused too much on the cubs had been a polite reminder of his manners. But given the erratic behaviour Riku had picked up from the other Hatake in the time they had been together, there was a chance that he was very close to the edge. Riku didn’t want to risk the other coming back and finding him staring again, who knew how he’d react?
The other man was older, that was about the only thing Riku had been able to tell about the other Hatake’s age given the way he wore that blue mask and the way the hitai-ate slanted to cover so much of his face. But the man’s stance, the way he wore his experience and power like a cloak, the cubs. If he was of an age with Riku or younger, he’d eat his mother’s next attempt to cook something other than field camp meals.
Then there were the overall odd clothing choices. The hitai-ates with the odd insignia seemed to be one of the few things all members of the little pack had in common. Only the blond seemed to share the odd orange circles that the other Hatake had been wearing, but he had also matched them with eye-searing orange, compared to Kakashi’s more field practical colours. The girl, quite aside from the unbound pink hair, was wearing bright red which was just as impractical for this environment and the Uchiha boy seemed to be wearing standard Uchiha blues, showing the massive clan fan on the back, which could definitely be an issue.
When Kakashi had attempted to give his very vague explanation, he had said that the Hatake colours and insignia would have been unsafe where they had been. But it left too many questions for Riku to contemplate in that moment without some more answers.
He did hope there was a good reason for why the other man had the cubs. Possession of an Uchiha alone was going to be a difficult explanation to anyone who had ever dealt with them.
Which Riku could conclude it could be that fact alone that might have something to do with the way the other man was avoiding saying anything. But he remembered the boy’s odd reaction to being in his birth clan’s territory and there was the also fact that that clan had as much of a track record of “losing” cubs outside of hunts and battle as the Hatake’s did. Which is to say, with both clans, that the child was proven dead or there was hell to pay for anyone who got in the way, even if it was for different reasons.
Then there was the fact that at least two of the cubs had referred to Kakashi as “Sensei”, which was a term rarely used among pack. Given the way the other Hatake had openly claimed them and they certainly hadn’t countered it, pack they were.
There was also that odd moment of doubt when Riku had spoken about Clan and Pack to contemplate.
Riku allowed his eyes to meet the familiar golden ones as he flicked his eyes to Daisuke when another thought came to him.
The big wolf had a reputation, even among the wider clan. Riku had heard enough of the whispers about how it was a shock that such a talented combat wolf had contracted to a clanmate who more openly specialised in tracking. How often did their own people forgot what being considered for line of succession meant?
How many of those distant cousins had eaten their words when they had heard of Nanami-nee’s last stand?
Riku flinched away from that thought at turned his tired gaze back to the two cubs lying across the cave from him.
The pink-haired girl seems to have passed out, but the Uchiha just seemed to be scowling at the blond again.
Riku let his mind wander back to the situation.
Daisuke was a wolf summon, which implied a lot about Kakashi just by the fact that was able to be summon the massive wolf.
What connection did he have with Nanami-nee? What did that connection say about him and me?
A quick, firm nudge to his stomach brought his attention back to the dark head in his lap.
“Rest,” Ayumu muttered the order, gaze direct before he flicked it out over the cave. “We’ve got watch.”
Riku huffed, but took the order allowing his eyes to close. He was tired and still hurting a little, after all. There were enough eyes and noses on watch, not to mention the crazy traps between them and any way in to them.
He was getting nowhere with these thoughts anyway.
They’d wake him if something came up.
He allowed himself to doze.
Kaori slowed slightly in her position in front of, slightly to his left and below, Kakashi’s run in the trees. He stiffened slightly when he noticed out of the corner of his eye.
It had been a mostly uneventful run along the top of the cliff. This had allowed them to take that perimeter at the speed he was used to for the task, only stopping long enough to set a few more snares and finish filling his firewood scrolls. The only scents they had come across had been their own, when they had run past the exit the cubs had used earlier, allowing Kakashi to log that position more accurately in his mental map of the area.
After he had decided that they had run an equal distance to his perimeter in the other direction, he had called a stop and had them follow him down the cliff to finish the last leg. He had quickly jumped into the branches once again while Kaori took point on the ground and Hayate brought up the rear.
Light sparked off the fire rock of the cliff and through the leaves as the sun started its faster descent toward the horizon. Kakashi was becoming more worried about finishing the perimeter before they lost that valuable light.
They had recently crossed the scent trail left by Riku and Ayumu on their way into the cliff. They only stopped long enough to ensure it wasn’t leading anyone after them and trying to disrupt the tracks as best they could on a time limit.
Now, Kaori’s nose lifted as she focused on something in front of them. Kakashi allowed a quiet, questioning growl to rumble from his throat as he also dropped back his pace.
“Ash,” she whispered, loud enough for Hayate to also hear from where he had slowed behind them, but not enough to carry much further. She slowed further, coming to a stop and shooting a look up at him.
Kakashi crouched on the branch above her and took a cautious sniff of the air.
He caught the scent of ash at the same moment his ears picked up the sound of rustling cloth and dead leaves and sticks against shoes and soil.
“Cover,” he hissed down at the wolves, looking about him for the best place to take his own. “Don’t engage unless we have no choice.”
Kakashi leapt up further into the branches above him and allowed his anbu training to take over, suppressing and melding his chakra signature with the wild chakra in the area around him. He spared enough of his focus to ensure both wolves had followed his directions. Noticing them slink into the undergrowth and becoming just another couple of wild predators in the uncultivated trees of Fire Country, before he turned his full attention on their interruption.
More rustling cloth and scenery. A series of soft crunches as a small group landed among the mulch on the ground and slowly split up to look around them.
“Damn!” A young voice’s frustrated growl was joined by a thud, like a sandalled foot making contact with wood. “Why are we even out here? This is a wild goose chase!”
“Hikaku said he saw a Hatake run in this direction away from the foreigners,” a gruff voice growled. “It’s our duty to track it down and put it down for trespassing.”
Kakashi didn’t allow himself to react. Any reaction could disrupt his cover, and he still didn’t know enough about the skills of this time to risk that he had recovered enough to take them all.
“Maybe,” the first voice spoke again. “But he also said it was alone so it was probably just a messenger, they don’t stop for long. Besides it’s stupid that we’re trying to track a tracker. And it’s not like it’s a Senju.”
“But they are allied,” a lighter voice broke in, over more scuffling.
“Probably made for the border as fast as possible,” a fourth voice agreed.
“We still had to check,” the third voice pointed out as they all seemed to come together again. “What do you think Tajima-sama would do if he found out we didn’t try to deal with it?”
“Still a waste of time,” the first voice whined. This was quickly followed by a thup and a yelp, when one of his older teammates seemed to have gotten sick of the attitude.
Kakashi held himself still while straining his hearing on the sounds of the patrol group moving away. Then remained there until the scent of their passing had dispersed enough that he could trust they would be out of detecting range.
He silently jumped down to the lowest branch as the two wolves slunk out of their own cover and looked up at him.
“They weren’t following any tracks,” Hayate muttered, looking in the direction of the sounds of their retreat then in the direction they had covered Riku’s tracks. “If they had we would have run into them back there.”
“Probably just a regular patrol group who had been warned to be on the lookout,” Kaori answered, shaking out her fur to lose any stray leaves and twigs that may have settled themselves in her coat. “More worried about making sure the Senju haven’t slipped through than a lone wild messenger.”
“There’re not actually looking their hardest I take it?” Kakashi muttered. He’d worked with Uchiha enough before the Massacre to know just how observant they could be, if they wanted to be, and that group hadn’t been that far from them. His main problem was that he didn’t know if that ability was one that was born from working with so many different shinobi types in the village, or the group they had come across had been particularly apathetic to their short search.
He kept his attention on Kaori. She was his best source of knowledge about the skills he could expect from the clan back here.
“Pride has them at least trying to look,” Kaori snorted. “But we travel through often enough that if they’re smart they know out here, this far from their compound and the civilians, they have very little chance of finding one of us.”
“So, we’re safe to keep going?” Hayate asked, checking the sky for the sun’s position.
“We should be,” Kaori nodded tilting her head and sniffing the air, then she looked up at Kakashi for confirmation to move.
The Hatake nodded and waited for her to start forward again before following.
They kept their pace more cautious than before the disruption, but they didn’t come across any more potential incidents by the time they reached where he had started his perimeter.
Still not sure what he was going to tell everyone when they got back to the cave. He carefully judged how much light they had and stalled for more time by insisting they check some of the closest snares.
Both wolves gave him suspicious looks at the insistence but followed him up the cliff once more.
By the time they had checked the third snare, dealt with the catch and reset it, the shadows had grown too long for Kakashi to continue stalling. Picking up the sealing scroll he had used and then set down beside him while he worked, he winced. He still wasn’t ready for this.
He fervently hoped that at least one of the genin had completely passed out so he could stall longer by waiting for them to wake and continue to think over his options. Though given his current run of luck he had a feeling he wouldn’t have that long.
“Com’on,” he muttered as he stood and started back to the closest known entrance.
“‘Bout time,” Hayate sighed and muttered with a pointed look at the sky.
Kaori gave him a side on look as they ran but didn’t comment.
The three of them remained silent as they concentrated on avoiding the traps in the passage.
Soft, deep yips greeted them when they made the final turn toward the cave. The same pattern as the one that Ayumu had greeted them with when they had returned with the cubs. Kaori answered her brother and continued the exchange as the small group continued through the passage.
Kakashi stepped silently into the cave, stowing his torch again and took in the scene.
Greeted by the intense regard of feral golden, vivid green and very tired blue eyes, he also noted a quick flutter of grey and black eyes checking the sight then closing again from opposite sides of the cave. His pink-haired genin remained curled up in her bedroll, unaware of their return in her exhaustion.
Kakashi nodded to the two waiting wolves and the blond boy as he made his way to settle on his own bedroll. The grey and russet wolves followed him in the cave and found their own places to settle comfortably around the fire.
“Well?” Hayate asked, eyes intently on the older Hatake as he settled his head on his paws.
“I only want to get through this once,” Kakashi answered with a grimace as the blond genin gravitated over to sit beside him, handing over the water bottle he had brought with him. “Wait ‘til everyone is awake to understand?”
The russet shared a look with the other wolves in the cave and then turned back to the jounin.
“Okay,” he settled, continuing to watch Kakashi closely as he took a sip.
“Anything?” Daisuke asked gruffly as his sister leaned more heavily onto his side.
Naruto’s head started nodding and his body started to slump toward Kakashi while they waited, and the wolves discussed the events of their separation.
“Just a basic Uchiha patrol,” Kaori answered lightly before turning to Ayumu. “Apparently one member of the patrol you ran your pursuers into clocked you and warned them to be on the lookout.”
Kakashi tuned out the rest of the conversion as he mulled over what angle to take.
Not long enough, Kakashi thought as the other Hatake and his Uchiha started blinking their eyes open more often at the conversation around them.
When Sakura started to groan and stir, he realised that he had run out of time to stall.
He rested a rested a hand on the dozing blond’s shoulder and gently shook it and pointed over at his teammates, handing back the water bottle when he blinked back to awareness. The boy appeared to get the implied order, staggering to his feet and took it over to offer to the dark haired boy while Kakashi dug out a few ration bars and took a bite out of one, threw another to the slightly more awake younger Hatake before taking one each over to the genin.
He helped them all to be sitting comfortably and securely, handed out the ration bars and retreated to his bedroll once again. He realised that distance would be a weak defence, but it was the only one he had from what was to come.
He allowed everyone to take a few bites of their bars, wince at the taste and swallow. Then, feeling the eyes of everyone in the cave baring into him looked directly at the genin and started to speak.
“So, you asked about what happened and where we are. I told you it was complicated,” he tried stall a little longer and also to prepare himself and them, at least a little. “I’m not sure how much detail you remember of the clearing before the light, but as it turns out there was something carved into the stone.”
“So?” Sasuke asked gruffly, glaring at him.
“It was a very old, very big transport seal,” he answered, trying to explain it as close as he could to how he imagined Minato-sensei would have. He was sure he has already messed it up though.
Nothing for it now, he mentally shrugged and continued.
“Carved by a group of very talented seal masters. But it had been abandoned for a very long time.”
“Huh,” Kakashi heard Riku’s shocked murmur but ignored him in favour of watching the genin and their reactions as he continued.
“It took a lot of chakra to set it off, hence the light and the chakra exhaustion,” he met Naruto’s eyes quickly before turning back to the other two. “Transport seals are also known as time-space seals, and this one had decayed in the time since it was last used.”
Soft gasps came from the various positions of the wolves around the cave as they seemed to realise exactly what kind of accident he might have actually meant.
“As for where we are,” Kakashi continued, still keeping his full attention on his genin as they continued look at him still confused. “Technically, we are back in the Village.”
“What?” The confused question came from multiple mouths as he stopped to take a deep breath and readied himself for what was to come.
“We’re just a little…uh...early.”
Dammit Kakashi, stop being such a cagey bastard! You were planned to tell them bluntly, not beat around the bush with it!
Also, friendly reminder that life is crazy and I am not sure if I can get another one up before deadlines bury me again.
Oop. Hi, I finally crawled out of my mountain of deadlines and out of the shadow of the overload. Still no promises though.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“Early?” Sakura was the first of his audience to find her voice after he stumbled through his attempted explanation. She glared at him and shook her head in confusion. “What do you mean early?”
The rest of the occupants of their little camp continued to look at him with a mix of confusion, disbelief and sympathy. The cubs even shared a particularly dubious look when the irony of that particular word in relation to Kakashi seemed to get hit all the present members of Team 7 at the same time.
Okay, not my best choice of words for the explanation. Kakashi admitted to himself as he looked away from them to an empty section of the cave attempting to avoid seeing the other Hatake’s reaction to his revelation.
“Time-space,” came a quiet mutter from Sasuke.
“A decaded seal, or whatever, is like a smudged one, right?” The curious tone in Naruto’s voice slightly worried Kakashi. Of all the things he could latch onto in what the older man said, why he would ask that?
“I guess?” Kakashi answered, not bothering to try to correct the pronunciation, starting now would just lead to madness. He turned to look at the boy trying to follow the thought process, noticing that the other cubs were also staring in the same direction curiously.
“You shouldn’t use those,” Naruto quickly pointed out matter-of-factly. “That’s how you lose eyebrows.”
Kakashi blinked at that odd choice of fact to share. He shook out of his shock at the turn of conversation when Sakura whacked the blond on the back of the head in response. Sasuke looked like he wanted to do the same, but also didn’t want to acknowledge hearing the words.
A harsh startled chuckle pulled them all back to the moment and reminded them that they weren’t alone.
Kakashi grimaced as his gaze shot to Daisuke who had made the sound and took in the way all the present-timers were looking at them.
“Well,” Hayate started, still looking at them with cautious confusion. “Maybe you can try that explanation again, but different. The only thing I understood was the bad seal making you early part.”
“You understood what that meant?” Sakura squeaked.
“All summonings work on blood and time-space seals,” Hayate responded, head tilting slightly to one side. “Training has to cover the possible consequences for getting it wrong.”
“Maybe a little explanation for the humans present?” Riku’s voice was strained as his gaze moved rapidly over the camp. “Might clear some things up.”
“Like he said, transport seals include components of time and space,” Ayumu told his summoner slowly, looking directly at Kakashi as his voice slowly dropped closer to a growl. “Both need to be functional in order for the seal to work as it should, and if it doesn’t there are theoretical consequences.”
“Theoretical because those that use them tend to either become little pieces all over the place, or just disappear never to be heard about again,” Kaori interrupted, staring at the members of Team 7.
“That,” Hayate said into the short silence that followed her revelation.
“Didn’t understand anything about the village thing though,” Ayumu continued, growl growing more prominent with every word.
“Theoretical? Time...Early…” Riku looked up to meet Kakashi’s eye with his widening ones, as he muttered. Kakashi really wished he could look away. “Disappear...Time travel?”
There was a commotion from where the cubs were settled, but he couldn’t bring himself to pay any attention to what they were going on about at that point in time, eye still locked on the two identical shocked grey ones across from him.
“Apparently?” He ventured, uncertainly.
Sasuke looked between the two men as all the little things he had thought were odd came together in his mind at that last exchange. The excessively evasive way their sensei had been avoiding explaining the situation, not to mention the weirder than normal way he had been acting around everyone. The dropped mentions of the Uchiha, Uchiha territory, and the Senju. The other Hatake and the wolves who Sasuke was sure he had never seen or heard about in the village.
Time travel. He didn’t know if he could really believe it. But Kakashi-sensei had rarely lied to them about the situation in anything but training exercises. He seemed to prefer withholding information until he was sure he was right about his assumptions while outside the village. There was also all the previously thought of evidence in favour of this conclusion to consider.
Even so, he didn’t know how he should feel about it if it were true.
On one hand, it seemed like he wasn’t only one of the last two Uchiha left. He wasn’t the only hope of his clan anymore. He wasn’t alone, screamed the silent lonely part of his brain that just wanted to have it all go back to the way it was before that night.
On the other, the village wasn’t there. No village meant no familiar training grounds, or echoingly empty clan district. The only bits of knowledge he had of the time before it was the dark warnings of bedtime stories about how if he wasn’t good he would be sent out to fight the Senju, and the history scrolls he had unearthed when he had been searching for training manuals, after.
The scrolls, he had mainly ignored in favour of the training he needed to become strong enough. Except when he wanted to feel a little like he was still connected to the other traditions of his clan other.
He could have other Uchiha here.
But none of the ones he had known or had known him. Would they even be able to understand anything about what he had known, would he be able to understand them, the old clan stories had been a little weird for him when he was younger. They certainly wouldn’t have the same experiences of growing up and living in the Village as he shared with his team.
Sasuke gulped and looked around the camp, thinking about what he knew about his team’s history and what they were wearing.
“Shit,” he muttered quietly, his brain supplying a whole load more curses he had picked up watching the training grounds in hope of learning more skills. He remembered some of the things those histories had claimed were done to suspected bloodline thieves. His sight tinted slightly red and he let them linger on Kakashi’s covered eye when the older man’s hearing picked up the unusual outburst and turned to him.
“But that’s impossible!” Sakura burst out. “If time travel were more than just a stupid bedtime story thing, we would have covered it in the academy.”
“It was from a seal, remember,” the Idiot replied before Sasuke could verbally cut the girl down himself. “We didn’t cover more than basic uses of pre-made small-scale explosive seals. The only reason Iruka-sensei taught me to make one was because I stole the whole academy stash for one of my pranks and used them all up, and my punishment was to make more for the class that was meant to practice them next.”
“We didn’t cover the stuff about clans you went on about earlier either,” Sasuke stopped her, still looking directly at their sensei.
“Academy?” The other Hatake broke in on the silence that followed as the pink haired girl seemed to think over what they had actually said. “Has this got something to do with this village thing you were talking about.”
“Hmm,” Kakashi blinked slowly and turned back toward the other Hatake. The red tinge in Sasuke’s eyes seemed to fade naturally now that he was mostly sure the man was aware of some of the dangers they could be in. “Who is the current Clan Head?”
“What does that have to do with anything?” The other Hatake growled when his question was ignored.
“It might give us some idea of how far back we are,” Kakashi replied in his usual lazily annoying tone. “Could help explain things better.”
“Tsukiko,” he answered slowly. Kakashi’s visible eye seemed to frown.
“What about the Uchiha?” Sasuke asked, feeling like it might clear things up more for him.
“The clan heir?” Sasuke recognised the name but wanted to be sure.
“Madara,” the big grey wolf grunted from where he hadn’t moved during the entire conversation. (Daisuke, Sasuke was pretty sure that one was Daisuke.)
There was a flurry of quick movement as Kakashi, Sakura and Sasuke turned to stare at the wolf.
“Madara…” The Idiot sounded out as he tipped his head to the side slowly. “That sounds familiar.”
Sakura was good enough to reach over and whack the Idiot over the head before Sasuke had to do more than turn to glare at him.
“Uchiha Madara,” she screeched at him. “One of the village founders.”
“The first missing-nin,” Sasuke murmured, remembering all the wildly different stories he had heard and read about the man.
“Oh,” the Idiot mumbled.
“Between a hundred and a hundred and fifty years in the past,” Kakashi-sensei interrupted them, looking toward the other Hatake and the wolves. Sasuke wasn’t going to admit it, but the return of the fake happy tone in his sensei’s voice was slightly comforting.
“Right,” the black wolf answered slowly, only to get a pale hand settled on his head.
“Can you explain about this village thing?” The other Hatake asked, meeting Kakashi’s eye before tilting his chin at were the three genin still remained seated. “You said they were yours.”
“Shinobi Village,” Kakashi answered, looking back over the camp, taking in the fact that everyone was giving him their full attention now. “Only official one in Fire Country to give out fair dealings on missions and evenly distributed skills into various team types. All clans and shinobi families, with the Academy giving standard instruction on skills and help train new blood from civilian families. The three of them are first year out of the academy, lowest field rank assigned to me.”
“But they are yours, right?” The black wolf growled out, looking at the three of them. Sasuke wasn’t entirely sure why he was picking up the way these newcomers had such a focus on belonging to Kakashi-sensei.
“Sakura is civilian from at least two generations back. Naruto and Sasuke are orphans,” the older man replied in an even tone.
“True or unacknowledged?” The female wolf interrupted, looking back at them.
Kakashi took a moment before he answered that question, making Sasuke feel like he was missing something big in the question.
“A mix of both, for both,” he answered slowly, tilting his head. “Sasuke has living blood but was disqualified via violence and Naruto’s case…” Sasuke winced at the reference to that man, then felt confused at the way the jounin seemed to stop himself from saying something.
“What about Naruto?” Sakura insisted, leaning forward when Kakashi remained silent for too long for her. “He just doesn’t have any parents to raise him properly.”
Sasuke gritted his teeth at the reminder the girl’s stupidity from the first day they were put together as a team. The lunch-break weirdness of that day. But that moment wasn’t the time to do, or say, something that may stop them getting answers.
“Naruto’s case is complicated,” Kakashi finished quietly, obviously also ignoring the pink haired girl’s outburst. Sasuke thought maybe he heard something a little off in those words but couldn’t quiet read them.
“True or unacknowledged?” The other Hatake asked, eyes drilling the older man, appearing to have also noticed something there.
“Blood gone, pack ordered away,” he answered quietly, turning to look directly into those eyes with his.
The other Hatake and all the wolves seemed to jerk back simultaneously at that admission.
“What?” The russet wolf asked. “How can that happen?”
“Kakashi-sensei...What does that mean?” Sasuke heard an odd softness in the Idiot’s slow question.
“We’re Village shinobi, we do what we have to for the Village,” he grumbled. “Orders are orders. Doesn’t matter now.”
“Well, if you are claiming them from that,” the big grey wolf spoke slowly as he stood and walked up to the jounin. “There shouldn’t be any issues about them being yours from wild clan law.”
“Pack of Clan is Pack,” the other Hatake muttered, looking at the older man, face set in a worried scowl. “I’m not sure how much help I can be in dealing with anything, I’m only just fully cleared for tracking and messenger missions.”
“Umm,” Kakashi hummed in answer with his head tilted. He shrugged it off as he reached out to set a pale gloved hand on the massive grey’s head while the other two that seemed to have attached themselves to the sensei also gathered around the man.
Sasuke considered the other Hatake closely, noting the tight grip he had in the black fur of his own wolf and the way in which those grey eyes flicked over all of Team 7.
“But if you want, I can get you to the Main Pack and they might be able to help.”
The amount of dialogue here and getting back to working out POVs gave me quite a hard time. But we are finally moving the story on.
Kakashi-sensei stilled, looking at the other guy. Then he blinked slowly.
Naruto looked between them in confusion. Then he shot a glance at his teammates, trying to work out what that conversation had been about.
He was still confused about what Sensei had meant when he said that Naruto’s blood was dead and pack ordered away.
Does Kakashi-sensei know something about my family? The question kept repeating itself in the boy’s head.
No one had ever answered his questions about that before. Even when he thought they might know something, they just said that it was a long story, if they didn’t just ignore his questions or change the subject.
“Will they…?” Kakashi-sensei started then stopped, turning to quickly look at the three genin.
“Not sure,” Riku answered, frowning a little and looking far away. “But Baa-san will probably help if you explain it to her. You’re a Hatake after all.”
“Baa-san?” Kakashi-sensei jerked his gaze back to Riku before he spoke.
“Tsukiko-baa,” Daisuke grumbled, while Riku made that face people sometimes did when they shouldn’t have said something.
Naruto turned at the sound of a familiar grunt beside him. The Bastard was staring across the cave at the other Hatake. The look on the other boy’s face mixed with the way Kakashi-sensei had looked back at the other man so quick made Naruto feel like he was missing something it exchange. A quick glance at Sakura-chan confirmed that he was, though it didn’t help him figure it out.
“Oh?” Kakashi-sensei muttered. He reached up to lay a hand between the Hayate’s ears as the wolf nudged his muzzle against the silver-haired man’s side.
“Mm,” Riku hummed in response, looking away.
“We can’t go anywhere until we’ve recovered enough,” Kakashi-sensei continued, looking around the cave again.
“Really?” Riku asked. Naruto was kind of surprised he didn’t fall over at the way he sat straight so fast.
“Chakra exhaustion,” Kakashi-sensei lifted his free hand and waved it vaguely in answer and settled a bit more into his bedroll. “You need to get back?”
“Not really,” Riku answered as he too settled back. “No return package. How long do you think it’ll take?”
“Who knows?” Kakashi answered, scanning the three genin again. “Depends on how much rest they can get.”
“I can wait,” was his answer, also shooting them a quick look, meeting Naruto’s eyes with a nice smile before turning back to their sensei with a slight grimace. “Might be safer to go together.”
“True,” the black wolf beside the other man muttered. “Might have to send one of the others to let the Pack know you’ll be delayed though.”
“Wouldn’t want your mother deciding to try and rip Fire Country apart to find you again,” Kaori huffed a laugh.
“I’m not a cub anymore!” Riku’s pale cheeks turned the same shade as Sakura-chan’s dress at that. Which seemed to be the last straw on the attempts to suppress laughter for all the wolves still surrounding the sensei.
“Maa, maa,” Kakashi-sensei moved the hand that had remained on Hayate’s head to grip Kaori’s ruff. “No need for that. I’m sure it wasn’t just his mother that made that decision the first time.”
This just seemed to make the wolves around him laugh harder and gain Kakashi-sensei a dark glare from the other man. The jounin just shrugged carelessly and seemed to push each of the wolves away gently as he started to lay down.
“Get some rest. It’ll help everyone recover.”
“But Sensei…” Sakura-chan spoke up again, shaking off the way she had kept quiet since the Bastard and him had stopped her earlier. Her voice was high and annoyed as she started to try to push herself up. Naruto reached out to hold her down, even as she wobbled.
“Rest,” was the only answer she got with a sharp glance. “It’s been a long day.”
There was grumbling from her and the Bastard, but they seemed to realise that nothing else was going to be explained and laid themselves down, without help this time. While Naruto watched and noted that Riku had done the same, he settled himself to take watch again.
“You can rest, too,” Daisuke rumbled at the blond as he wandered back to his previous position, between the genin and the fire, but turned to watch one of the entrances to the cave this time.
“But…” Naruto started before being cut off.
“We haven’t exactly done much,” Hayate said over him, taking a position watching another of the entrances. “We’re mostly rested, you’re not.”
“We’re fine to take this one, cub,” Kaori muttered as she found a place to watch the last and settled in.
“You’ll know if anything happens,” Daisuke continued. “We’re not exactly going to be quiet. Between us and those traps out there, you’ll be up in time for whatever it is.”
“Naruto, rest.” Kakashi-sensei growled from his own bedroll, sounding a little annoyed at the continued talking.
“Okay,” Naruto finally gave in, meeting the big grey’s eyes. He felt the ball of tightness in his chest shrink a little at the look there, and he lay down.
It didn’t take him long to fall asleep.
Riku looked around the den as he stepped back into the cave behind Kaori and Ayumu. Tension slowly leaving the places it had bunched in his shoulders since he had left to run the perimeter and send out his messenger back to his pack.
It had been an interesting 24 hours, but now, after some time and space to think it all over himself, he felt like he was on firmer ground. He had some idea of what he might be facing with the little pack he had found himself with. The comfort of some form of pack was certainly nice after the stress of his first solo mission and the aftermath, even if he didn’t really have any idea what to do with the situation.
The pink-haired cub remained as deeply asleep as she had been when he had volunteered to check outside. He thinks she might have at least rolled over in the hours he had been out, but she doesn’t seem to have done much else.
The Uchiha boy was up though, scowling at the contents of a backpack he had spread out beside him, focusing on the weapons pedantically lined up in easy reach. While Riku watched he randomly picked a kunai up and tested the edge before setting it back and reaching for a shuriken.
The blond had moved to a clear space between the other cubs and Kakashi, having spread out the contents of another pack. Seal paper, string and ropes messily stacked and unordered in front of him amid messy stacks of weapons and what appeared to be a very ripped pile of orange cloth. Daisuke was laid out behind him watching the proceedings. They both looked up at Riku’s entrance and he was given a nod from the wolf and a bright smile from the boy, before they turned their attention back to the mess.
Kakashi met Riku’s eye in turn and nodded. He seemed to still be going through the scrolls and supplies he had started pulling out of various pockets and his own backpack after breakfast that morning.
Riku had woken that morning, well-rested and feeling a lot better than he had since the start of his mission, to find the older man awake and staring at the still sleeping cubs. Hayate had migrated over to lay resting his weight on the older man sometime in the night, while Daisuke seemed to have moved just a little closer to the cubs.
Riku’s awakening seemed to shake Kakashi out of whatever thoughts he was having as he soon quietly set to fixing breakfast.
When the scent of the meal had permeated the den, only the blond had woken to eat with them. Riku had soon realised that the boy really liked to talk. He could go on at random about nothing. For example, during breakfast he kept a running narration of everything he was doing as he did it.
Kakashi on the other hand had kept mostly silent. But he hadn’t made any comment about the interaction between him and the blond, which Riku took as permission to continue so long as he made no move to threaten. Then after they had finished eating, he started pulling things from his pack, setting them neatly for an inventory check while Riku and Naruto had cleaned up and set the leftover food aside for later.
When that was done, Riku had started to feel on edge by the looks the blond kept sending the older man, uncomfortable about the way there had obviously been some unsaid stuff that he had missed in the conversation around the attempted explanation the day before. So, he had spoken up to offer to run the perimeter to get out for a bit to think about what had been revealed the previous day.
The older man had just thrown a couple of those disgusting, hard food bars at him and asked if he could check the snares and pick up some more firewood while he was out there. Kaori had offered to show him the perimeter they had run together and to help find the rest, joining him and Ayumu out there while Daisuke and Hayate remained in the den with the others.
Riku had taken the perimeter slower than he may have otherwise, getting used to the area and thinking out everything he had found out the day before. It had been good, letting him think about whether he had made the right decision in offering the clan’s help. He’d also taken his time taking care of all the other tasks he had been set while he was out there to give himself more time.
Airi had been happy to see Kaori when she had been summoned. Even if the message she had been asked to take back to Baa-san had confused her.
Riku had ultimately decided that Baa-san should be the person to get the full story as he knew it. She could pass on whatever parts of his report she thought should be shared to his parents, and the anyone else she might decide to choose.
He had taken the time to ready the catch from the snares before coming back, so he held them out to show Kakashi from where he was holding them from the ninja wire he had used to tie them together.
“Find somewhere to hang them for now,” the other man said as he picked up one of the scrolls in front of him and placed it in one of the many pockets in his vest and turning back to the items spread out in front of him. He then started moving some more of the items onto another spread-out scroll.
“Nothing to report out there,” Riku looked around as he spoke, spying a useful jutting rock in the wall and wandering over to tie the brace onto it.
“Hmm,” the other man hummed in acknowledgement. “Good.”
Riku made his way back to his bedroll with a stretch.
“Do you want me to start on dinner, Sensei?” Naruto asked quietly as Riku folded himself to the ground with a sigh.
Kakashi nodded and the boy left his mess as it was to start for the fire.
“Been meaning to point out,” Riku muttered, reminded by the title the cub had used to get the man’s attention. “You know they’re going to question the Sensei thing, right?”
“That is what he is,” the Uchiha scowled at him, moving his attention away from the weapons he was now starting to sharpen.
“Maybe in this village of yours it made sense,” Riku tried, looking back to Kakashi. “But here it’s not something that is used often within a clan, particularly for us. Especially if you’re not visibly clan, something about being mistaken for stolen if we don’t make it obvious they’re family.”
“We aren’t clan!” The Uchiha growled, grip on the kunai he was working on flipping to make it easy to attack.
Riku blinked at the reaction and looked at the older man for an answer.
“You’re a blood orphan that Kakashi has claimed as pack,” Daisuke spoke up, watching the dark-haired boy from where he remained reclined near the contents of Naruto’s pack. “That counts as a legal adoption into his Pack. Pack is Clan.”
“I’m...” the boy started, getting to his feet.
“The Uchiha’s you came from were gone,” Kakashi cut him off harshly, stopping the boy before he could say or do anything else. “You know as well as I do what they’d do to us if they realise they can’t account for you here. Stop wasting energy.”
Surprisingly the boy listened, still scowling at everyone involved.
“From what I remember of the old stories,” Kakashi continued less harshly after he was sure he had been heeded, turning to address Riku. “Genin teams, at least, evolved to function as very simple wild clan packs after enough of the Fire Country ones set themselves up there.”
“You’re still going to have to change the honourific to something more pack-friendly,” Riku informed him, trying to analyse the man’s age again. “Tou-san or ji-san would work.”
Kakashi stilled and narrowed his visible eye at him.
“I’m only fourteen years older than them,” he said steadily. “I was a little busy with other things at that age.”
“Oh,” Riku tried to hide his smirk at the reaction, realising he had found a button he could push. “I couldn’t tell, what with everything on your face. How old does that make you, ji-san?”
“Twenty-six,” Kakashi deadpanned, seeming to pick up on what Riku was doing. “I think you are a little old to be calling me that, aren’t you?”
“Well, I do need to find something to stop me from trying to work out how we may be related,” Riku shivered at the thought. “And can I tell you how scary I realised that thought is.”
“Depends, is Tsukiko-sama your mother’s or your father’s mother?” Kakashi asked after a short pause tilting his head to the side.
“You’re fine,” Kakashi answered. “I come through the line of one of her sons.”
“That’s a relief,” Riku answered with a sigh, before a thought struck him and he continued with a shit-eating grin. “Kakashi-nii.”
The glare was back.
Kakashi kept his eye narrowed while looking the younger Hatake straight in his at the new addition to his name.
It hurt to hear it, an honourific that had only ever had directed at him as a mission cover, or in reference to one situation and never by the person implied in it. Especially with the one person who should have been able to use it freely never had and was watching the exchange from the fireside. Another tear in the scarred over wound that had been reopened too many times in the past 24 hours to be comfortable.
Sage, the conversation the blond had tried to have with him after Riku had left them alone with only the wolves and unconscious cubs to witness had been awkward.
“Sensei, you know who my parents were?” Kakashi could see the cautious hope in the boy’s eyes as he asked. But how could he answer him. Even as his brain told him the odds of them being able to get back to the village, twelve years of a reinforced order, twenty years knowing the rules of shinobi, and a lifetime of training and trauma caught a complete answer in his throat.
“Yes,” was all he managed to choke out. “Any of the higher ranked nin could have figured it out.”
“People knew them? Why wouldn’t anyone tell me about them?” The confusion and hurt in the boy’s eyes cut at Kakashi, forcing him to turn away in order to find a way to get his own story straight. To figure out what he could get away saying.
“I read the report on your graduation,” Kakashi started slowly, giving a sharp look around the camp. “It said you were told about the laws in place around that.”
“Everyone knows anyway,” Naruto grumbled, wrapping his arms around his stomach and curling into himself.
“Enough people knew of that part, it was simple for someone to start the rumour without it being easily traced back to the source,” Kakashi tried to explain. “It was all visible enough at the time that anyone watching could see the results of the sealing and place ground zero. The Council ruled that it was a waste of manpower to try and supress those rumours, that it wasn’t a danger to the village as a whole to have your status known by those that were present so long as it wasn’t handed down to your generation.
“The War gained your parents some powerful enemies in other villages and they died doing their best to protect you. The people who knew them well wanted to ensure those enemies didn’t target you in their place. They made a point of hunting down anyone they found breaking that part of the law, even without orders to do so.”
“The War? Enemies?” Naruto perked up at this information.
“I can’t…” Kakashi stumbled, hitting a block of what he thought he could get away with saying. He’d never wished the boy was capable of looking underneath the underneath as much as he did in that moment. Kakashi couldn’t bring himself to tell him everything but it wouldn’t be as much of an issue if the boy could work it out himself.
“Please, Naruto,” Kakashi could hear himself begging the boy to listen. He then started to babble when saw the boy open his mouth as if about to press again. “The War had only recently been completely agreed to be over. I was fourteen, the last of my team had their names carved after that night. I can’t...”
He had to bite his tongue to stop the flow of words before he could say anything else he might regret.
The silence had been very awkward after that. So much so that Kakashi had been glad when Sasuke had woken up and the usual bickering had started up, even if it was more subdued than usual on both sides.
“Kakashi-nii?” The question had him shaking off the memories and reminding him of the present.
He grit his teeth at the reminder of why his brain decided to go down that mental rabbit-hole and closed his eye for a few seconds.
“I suppose you are going to stick with that now?” He sighed and opened his eyes again.
“Err, yes,” Riku answered, concern now layered behind the shit-eating grin still sitting on his face.
“Fine, if it’ll stop you from attempting to call me an old man,” he grudgingly accepted the title, even though he certainly felt like an old man in that moment.
Sage, he was tired. His muscles and bones ached, but not as much as his chakra pathways did as they slowly recovered the chakra they were used to circulating after near complete depletion for the second time in a month. His body was used to recovering from that state, but he didn’t generally give it the time and rest to do so quickly, unless he had been set on forced bedrest.
He was slower too. Not just his physical speed but his mental one as well. He hadn’t even thought that the name the cubs used for him might bring trouble, he’d been focused on more visible issues.
Kakashi turned to the awake cubs, grimacing when he noted Sasuke glaring at them all.
That might be a problem, he thought reminded of the boy’s issues, many of which centred on family.
“I’ll leave the choice up to you three,” he said instead of ordering them to use a particular term and including the still sleeping Sakura in his count. “Find a consensus, just don’t choose otou-san or jii-san and I’ll probably remember to answer to it.”
He thinks he could handle uncle or brother, but father or grandfather may get him to fall back on old habits of retaliation, for very different reasons.
He turned back to the inventory he still had set out in front of him when they both acknowledged his words, gaze flicking to the clothes he had set in two piles beside him. One a neat pile of mostly clean uniform, the other a mess of ripped and bloody navy cloth.
“I was a little more focused on the other issues,” Kakashi muttered, feeling the other Hatake’s eyes on him. He nodded at Naruto’s bright orange clothes and the mess he had left of his own travelling supplies, then over to the other cubs with their very large Uchiha crest and red clothes.
“What?” The blond spoke up, turning back around to look at him as he moved the pot away from the fire. The other Hatake also looked at him confused while Sasuke ignored them all, running the shuriken in his hand over the whetstone aggressively.
“Your clothing choices may have been fine in our time, with only the villages as a shinobi bases and bandits to deal with,” Kakashi started slowly, hoping to message would get through that thick skull clearly, nodding at the clothing again. “But here there are more wide-ranging patrols on high alert for intruders. We are all wearing too visible colours or clan things from clans that won’t ever recognise us. It’s too dangerous to attempt to go anywhere looking like this.”
Kakashi hoped he wouldn’t have to remind them of the mess that had been the journey back from Wave, or even how lucky they had been to have survived the mission at all. He didn’t want to have to deal with the arguing that they had been “awesome”. As far as he was concerned, they had shown him that they didn’t yet have the skills to deal with a battle-hardened patrol that would certainly not underestimate them due to their age.
A soft moan and the sound of shifting cloth on cloth broke the contemplative silence that followed his words, bringing his attention to the pink haired girl as she stirred, waking slowly. Kakashi lazily pushed himself to his feet, running through the hand-signs for the diagnostic jutsu absently on the way to her side. She had slept the day away which proved to be beneficial for her when he analysed the results the jutsu gave him. She still needed time and energy to recover though.
When she proved she was able to sit up on her own and sipped at the water bottle handed to her, Kakashi turned to the blond and indicated the pot with a slight tilt of his head.
“Ye..yeah,” Naruto answered and scrambled to grab bowls to fill.
Kakashi helped the boy to hand out the meal, ensuring Sakura had a large serving and giving her a long stare when she saw how much was there and opened her mouth to say something. She seemed to understand what he was on about when she only gulped a little and started spooning small amounts into her mouth.
“Will these be a problem?” Kakashi tapped a finger on the hitai-ate over Obito’s eye when they had all settled down and started eating.
“Hm?” Riku’s head whipped up from his bowl at the question. He looked hard at the engraved metal plate, then looked around at the cubs who were all still wearing their own. He can’t have missed the fact that they had not taken them off in the entire time they had been there. His gaze stopped for a moment longer on Naruto, taking in the way the boy’s hand had jumped up to grip his own hitai-ate like he could lose it at any moment, something Kakashi could understand given the reports he had read on how the boy had earned it.
Riku swallowed the mouthful he had been chewing and taking the moment to think.
“I think as long as it isn’t from some other clan, it should be fine for you to continue wearing them,” he answered slowly. “The more independent packs sometimes create their own symbol to help other members of the clan identify them.”
“I think you can get away with coming off as an independent pack,” Kaori muttered, looking up from her own bowl that she was licking clean. “You’re odd enough to pass.”
Kakashi gave a silent sigh of relief at the answer, covered by Naruto’s much louder one. He had not been looking forward to the idea of possibly having to copy out the complex seals that had been engraved on the back of the Konoha plate to limit the chakra drain in that eye.
“It was deliberately created for the village so it wasn’t based on any one clan,” Sakura seemed that was the time to give information in answer for the present timers.
“So, all we need to deal with is the clothes themselves,” Kakashi continued, getting absent nods from those giving him their attention. He looked at his pile of ruined clothes. “We can get a set of pants for Naruto and a replacement top for Sakura out of that, when they’re cleaned up.”
Kakashi looked up at the smothered sounds on indignation that followed that pronouncement, eyes focusing on the orange jacket the boy was wearing.
“Leave the jacket off and the new coloured pants should be fine,” Kakashi continued, ignoring mumbling about orange. He then turned to lock eyes with Sasuke. “The over-shirt has to go before you leave the cave.”
The growl he received for that pronouncement was almost impressive.
“No…” The boy tried to start angrily.
“Sakura, your reports said you had the classes best scores in field sewing. Can you do basic embroidery?” Kakashi continued to ignore the boys and turn to the girl.
“Yes?” She squeaked, shooting a quick look at the still outraged Uchiha. “Kaa-san said it was a basic skill all girls should be good at.”
“You have thread?”
“Get Sasuke’s under-shirt and start on a small Uchiha fan that can be easily hidden,” Kakashi instructed the girl, hoping that will satisfy the boy. Then he pointed at both boys. “You two can help me fix up these pants and top, while I work out what I’m doing these Uzu...Uzushio spirals.”
Kakashi hoped his small trip over the name of the spirals wasn’t too much of an issue, even as he turned himself to the task of eating without showing his face, effectively shutting down any continued conversation.
Sakura quickly pulled on the sleeveless short wrap dress the team had managed to create out Kakashi-sensei’s old, thoroughly cleaned uniform shirt, sure her face was redder than her old qipao.
No, it’s Kakashi-nii now. Remember Kakashi-nii. She mentally berated herself again. We had days to practice, why can’t I get it right?
(And hadn’t that been an argument to get an agreement on honourifics the three of them would use. Sakura had been surprised at Sasuke-kun’s insistence on not using either of the options. At least, until Sakura had pointed out that it was just another infiltration cover like had been taught in the academy and with Riku-san already using brother it would be easier for them to remember that rather than the other choice.)
The last half an hour had been awkward, another reminder that things were different than they had been.
The wolves had found the clear spring when they’d been running the perimeter of their camp. Close to one of the passages from the caves, with good cover and adequate watch positions. The Hatakes had decided to take watch with Kaori and Ayumu, sending Daisuke and Hayate out to do a wider sweep, while they forced the three genin to bathe, at the same time.
She couldn’t fault the reasons they had been all but thrown into the spring though. Having them all go in at once reduced the amount of time they were all exposed and they all really needed a bath. They had started to become pretty rank and disgusting as they had been holed up in the cave for what she had been told was almost five days, of which she had slept through most of the first few.
With only the Hatakes and wolves cleared to leave the camp area and able to find time to bathe the whole cave had started to smell pretty bad to her, and she didn’t have the enhanced sense of smell she was sure the Hatakes shared with the Inuzukas.
That morning Kakashi-nii had finally cleared her to leave her bedroll for more than a short walk to use the latrine they had set up in a nearby cave and they had finished the last touches on the reworked clothes.
Still, she was the only human girl in the group and her mother had made a point to ensure she knew that bathing with boys was something good girls shouldn’t do. It didn’t help that the two she had just been trying not to see the naked bits of included her major crush and a boy she had seen use a naked girl henge in class.
Fat. Forehead. Ugly.
The taunts circled her memory as she tried to ignore them and reached for her weapon pouches to settle them comfortably.
“I still don’t see why I couldn’t keep my clothes,” the now familiar whine pulled her from those memories and had her turning to the blond again.
“Because no matter what you seem to think, orange is not going to help you blend in here,” Riku-san sighed as he repeated the same sentiment that both Hatakes had taken to repeating every time the boy decided to question the decision again.
Sakura admitted that he looked very different in his navy pants and nin-mesh undershirt, even as he pouted and readjusted his re-tied hitai-ate. Even though Sakura was aware that the orange spiral that he had been so happy to wear all the time was embroidered on the waist hem of both where it could be easily covered. She had been the one who had done the needlework after all, Naruto and Sasuke-kun seemed to be pretty skilled in mending and sewing new garments but both are ridiculously bad at decorative stitching.
“I may rethink the colour when we’re more settled here,” Kakashi-sen-nii said lazily as he stepped closer to the group again. Sakura was still getting used to his new look too. He had sewn a cross-hatched design Riku-san had offered to cover the usual spiral on the back of the uniform flack-jacket that Sakura was so used to she didn’t register anymore, but apparently was recognisable in this time. He had removed his long sleeve shirt which had also featured the spirals and replaced it with a form fitting sleeveless shirt with his usual inbuilt face mask under his jacket.
The exposed long, muscled, pale arms with the oddly stylised Konoha insignia tattoo had kept Sasuke-kun’s direct attention for a while after Kakashi-nii had made that change. Though Sakura had no clue as to why.
“Airi,” Kaori suddenly pushed herself up from her seated position at the edge of the clearing, nose coming up, scenting the air.
Sakura was confused for a moment at that outburst, while Riku-san and Ayumu who had been curled comfortably on the other side of the clearing perked up.
Less than a minute later, a small, sleek white and light grey wolf bounded out of the undergrowth and skidded to a stop in front of Riku-san.
“Hi Boss,” the wolf panted in a light voice, then looked curiously around at them all staring at her. “Hi.”
“Hi Airi,” Riku-san greeted back, leaning down to rub her ears. “Message get delivered okay?”
“Yep,” she answered happily. “Baa-san also said to tell you: you always seemed to find interesting trouble and she’ll handle your parents. Also, she has some ideas, but wants to meet them herself first, bring them with you.”
Riku-san’s cheeks darkened a little at the mention of his parents but seemed to understand the message, looking up at Kakashi-nii and meeting his eye. The jounin nodded slightly and then turned around and slunk over to the tree he had been sitting in while the genin bathed.
“Thanks for the hard work,” Riku-san thanked the pale wolf with a head scratch that she seemed to enjoy. Before the younger Hatake could say anything else there was a soft thump beside them. Sakura couldn’t see what it was from her angle, but she did hear Kakashi-nii’s soft voice from up in the branches.
“Thank you!” The answering happy cry was followed by an excited pounce on what was apparently a skinned rabbit while chuckles from the other Hatake and the present wolves joined it.
Well, at least he wasn’t only watching us bathe. Sakura wrinkled her nose at the thought, not sure if she was relieved or still embarrassed about the idea.
“What’s the plan, Kakashi-nii?” Naruto asked as the man jumped lightly down, holding a brace of skinned rabbits. Sakura was kind of jealous about how easily he had taken to the switch in honourifics, even going so far as to do the same with the other Hatake.
“Give it one more night and we can break camp in the morning,” Kakashi-nii answered after a moment where he gave everyone present an assessing stare.
“Hn,” Sasuke-kun grunted at the suggestion, in what Sakura thought might be agreement.
Kakashi then stared straight at Riku-san.
“I’d like to see if your grandmother can lend us some solid ground as soon as possible.”
“Okay,” Riku-san nodded good naturedly. “You can go when you’ve finished that, Airi. Thanks again.”
“You sure you don’t need me?” The pale wolf asked, barely lifting her muzzle from her meal.
“I think one messenger around is enough,” Kaori answered. “There are enough tails to watch as it is.”
“Maa, maa. That’s enough,” Kakashi-nii broke in. “We should head in, eat and rest. Tomorrow will be a long one.”
Mixed grumbles met his suggested order, which over the past few days Sakura had come to realise wasn’t any kind of suggestion at all but an order that he expected them to obey.
Still, Sakura sighed as she joined the boys in heading over to where they had hung their bedrolls over branches of nearby trees in an attempt to air them a little while they bathed.
It seemed they would be putting off the washing of their previous sweaty, stinky outfits until another time.
So, things are happening.
No one has quite put together all the follow-on consequences of time-travel yet, gotta love them falling back on their infiltration training in order to survive.
Updates might slow down again after this one but I am trying to set a writing schedule up to deal with everything, so fingers crossed.
And all of them finally leave that damn cave, and the story moves.
Apologies for all the delirious comment replies that may, or may not, have made sense (lack of sleep, colds & cold meds, and long days concentrating on projects and deadlines does not a coherent me make).
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Kakashi had taken time the night before to work out the distribution of tasks for that morning. He’d known that it would have to be an early start and it would be easier to get any of the arguments out of the way while they were all still mostly awake.
He had had to fight the urge to leave as many of the traps where they were in order to protect the home-den they had created in that cave for their recovery, just in case they return. But in the end had set Naruto and himself to clear enough of the traps that they wouldn’t be caught short on supplies. Kakashi at least had felt fairly settled for the last few days of their time there, which was more than he could say about the fact that they were about to leave the area that still felt like his territory.
Kakashi inspected the cave that had been the centre of their camp, making sure Riku and the other two genin had managed to complete their task of clearing it out. Seeing nothing else they needed to pack up, he ran a quick check over his supply storage and turned to assess the gathered group.
The four wolves either sat, or stood, interspersed between the shinobi looking back at Kakashi eagerly. The three genin had shouldered their own packs and had settled into postures that he had come to be familiar with each of them, Sasuke scowling with his arms crossed, Sakura fiddling with her hair and staring at Sasuke and Naruto looking ready to bounce off the walls.
Kakashi turned to see the last member of the group. He was met with the mirror image of his own grey in two smiling eyes and had to ignore the odd warm, sick feeling that had been growing in his chest the last few days they had been together.
Kakashi didn’t know how he would have handled everything they’d had to in this new time without Riku and the wolves. He was grateful that he hadn’t had to find out, even if his brain kept tripping itself up and wanting to think of Riku as another kid despite his age, or maybe it was because of it and relative lack of experience. It had been a long time since Kakashi had had to work with anyone other than his genin who had less than high chunin experience and its associated quirks.
He just didn’t know how the boy had managed to keep so much of his childishness despite what the jounin knew of the harshness of the time they were currently in.
Well, whatever else he thought, it had been useful to have the wolves and other Hatake’s help, and Kakashi had used their skills as ruthlessly as the seasoned anbu commander in him could think to. Having them to help him explore and map the tunnels around them, patrol outside and watch the genin while Kakashi did those things himself, to name a few tasks he had asked of them. All of it had been a great help in re-orientating himself to the area that he had known as his territory all his life, even with the changes that had apparently come to the area with time and village habitation.
But now they had all fully recovered, it was time to move. Even though his instincts still screamed that they should remain, that this was his territory and so safer than out there.
Riku raised an eyebrow of one of the eyes Kakashi was still looking into, obviously finding the pause that he had used to think odd.
“Everyone done?” Kakashi asked, looking away and trying to make his spacing out not so weird.
“Ready, Kaka-nii,” Naruto answered brightly, getting a glare from Sakura while Sasuke grunted and started off into one of the passages.
“Well,” Riku muttered as he watched the boy’s back disappear. “I guess we’re off then.”
Kakashi sighed and nodded to Hayate to catch up with the boy.
“Don’t let him run off,” he muttered at the russet, gesturing for everyone else to start filing after them.
Familiarity and the new relative lack of traps had them exiting the darkness quickly, letting them reconvene under the cover of the trees that were just starting to be lit by early sunrise.
The last to join them after clearing the groups tracks, Kakashi blinked slowly at the sight that greeted him. Naruto was rolling on the ground laughing and pointing at Sasuke. The Uchiha had a tight grip on the waist of his shorts while also glaring down at Hayate who was tugging on the loose leg. Sakura was blushing off to the side while Riku and the other wolves watched on.
“Ha, ha... Hayate… almost stole...ha...the...bastard’s...ha...pants,” Naruto tried to explain through his laughter after Kakashi lightly kicked the blond to get his attention.
Kakashi could only sigh before he turned to Riku who wasn’t even trying to hide his smile, even as he held in his laughter.
“You did say not to let him run off,” Riku muttered.
“Thank you, Hayate,” Kakashi muttered and rolled his eyes giving the other Hatake a look. “You have point,” he deadpanned before kicking the blond again to nudge him back to his feet. “Sasuke second, then Sakura, Naruto and I’ll take tail.”
Riku gave a quick nod and jumped, shinobi quiet, into the branches above them with Ayumu on his heels. Kakashi was given a range of expressions from the genin at the autocratic decision, but they still followed in the specified order without argument, which was all he knew he could ask.
Kakashi turned his gaze to the three wolves that remained around him.
“I’ll take ground, Kaori forward scout and Hayate rear,” Daisuke growled, flicking his muzzle at each of the other two as he made the decisions. They each gave their own canine nods, which Kakashi answered before following the humans into the branches.
“Ready?” He asked after a quick swipe of his gaze over the gathered group. When none of them objected, he nodded to Riku and they started off toward what Kakashi had been informed was Senju territory.
They had spent a lot of time in the cave, between patrols while waiting for Riku’s messenger to return and the cubs to recover, planning the route back to Hatake territory, while Riku ran through the current state of the world as he knew it. Trying to find the least dangerous way to move the cubs had been a lesson in clan alliances and politics that Kakashi was still trying to get straight.
The late Lady Senju had been one of Riku’s aunts, a daughter of the Hatake clan head, and as such, for the most part Hatakes had a non-aggression agreement with them. Despite the clan as a whole refusing to be a part of the Senju’s war, they could pass through Senju land without much issue. The obvious craveat being it was as long as they weren’t identified to be a threat to them, their war or their missions.
Kakashi felt that this might have sounded like something he may have heard vaguely somewhere before, but no matter how much he thought on it, he couldn’t figure out why. The only thing that came to mind was it might have something to do with being a show of the Hatake clan’s continued independence.
When they had made their way through the Senju, the plan was to then take a route through Hyuuga land. This would be done by using a strip of their territory were a Hive of Aburame had set up, followed by a Hatake pack which should lead them straight over the border into traditional Hatake clan territory.
Before they left, Riku had cheerfully estimated they would reach the Hatake border not long after noon. But Kakashi could see with every hard and misplaced landing the genin made, and the way the other Hatake flicked looks back over his shoulder to check their pace that he was mentally revising his estimate.
Kakashi was almost sorry that his mask covered the shit-eating grin he was sure he was wearing; he had warned the younger man it wouldn’t be that easy. He was also glad that he hadn’t lost his own touch at estimating group ability.
They would probably make the border sometime around sundown, taking into account the lunch break and any other quick rest breaks they would need to stop for when the cubs tired again. But he was glad they were at least fully rested at the start of the journey this time.
Kakashi made sure to monitor Sakura’s condition even as he kept his senses prepared for picking up any hint of danger. He knew from the trip from Wave that she would be the easiest tell of when they needed to rest.
Almost two hours after taking to the trees, after the girl almost missed a landing for the second time in ten minutes, Kakashi called the first stop. Instructing the cubs to sit and drink, he dropped to the ground next to Daisuke, followed by Riku and Ayumu. Before they could say anything, Kaori joined them and spoke first.
“Glad we didn’t seem to have run into anyone. They were making enough noise for civilians to find them.”
“It’s actually better than it was,” Kakashi muttered back, gaining disbelieving looks all around, causing him to shrug. “Believe it, or not.”
“What the Sage did this Academy you were all going on about actually teach them?” Riku muttered, darting a quick glance up.
“I’ve been asking the same thing since they got dropped on me,” Kakashi could only mutter with a light shrug, before continuing mostly to himself. “I’m pretty sure I didn’t come out this unprepared for the field and I spent less than a year in the classroom.”
Incredulous gazes bore into him at that admission.
“Genius prodigy,” he pointed to himself drily. “Though I was also trained by what was left of the clan from the time I could walk ‘til I was alone. That was something they didn’t really get, so that might have had something to do with it.”
Riku’s eyes widened at that addition, even as the two grey wolves both moved so they were leaning on either side of Kakashi.
His accidental summons had taken to making physical contact with him regularly over their time together, particularly when he was asked to explain things about his past and the Village. Kakashi wasn’t sure if he should be happy for the familiarity of the canine bodies, or paranoid about the way they seemed to have decided to side with him so quickly.
“If we stop regularly for short breaks, we should be able to keep this pace up,” he decided to get the topic back on track.
“We’ll probably have to make camp at the Hatake border,” Riku picked up the topic after a moment of silence and a long, shared look with the wolves. Another behaviour that had become familiar over the last few days. “It should be safe enough, but there isn’t any settled den I know of in the area.”
“As long as it’s not a battleground we can deal for one night,” Kakashi shrugged and shot a glance upwards. “That should be long enough, let’s go.”
Riku followed Kakashi as he jumped back to the cubs, who were starting to look restless, and waited as the wolves returned to position before they all headed off again.
Naruto watched as Sakura-chan almost slipped as she landed again. That was the third branch in a row. He added a little more kick to his next jump, so he would be closer to help if she actually did slip, deciding to bring most of his attention in to watch his pink-haired team-mate.
Kaka-nii had been pretty good at stopping when Sakura-chan was starting to get bad all day, but hadn’t called a stop for more than two hours now, despite her frequent close misses. Naruto thought that maybe he was starting to get worried about how close the sun was getting to the ground and Riku-nii had said that they were nearly there during the last stop when the two of them had jumped down to talk with the wolves while they rested.
Maybe it all meant they were going to stop for the night soon, but they wanted to get somewhere first.
Unlike the camp they had left that morning, where they had all had the energy to fight each other, it had been a pretty quiet day, even when they stopped regularly to rest.
It had given Naruto too much time to think over everything as he moved, his thoughts always got clearer when he was moving, it was easier not to get distracted. But it also meant he could get through all the weird things since the weird light in the rocks.
He was starting to worry that that time travel thing Kaka-nii had been talking about with Riku-nii and the wolves may not just be another weird test of Kaka-nii’s. With each jump of their journey he became aware that something was very different than any other time he messed around in the trees around the Village, and even from the way they had been as they travelled to Wave.
It was all weird, almost as weird as that grumbling in the back of his head that he thought may be something else panicking over weirdness. He shook his head roughly and focused back on Sakura-chan as she just made the landing on the next branch, he wouldn’t think of what that reminded him of.
A howl pierced the sounds of their travels, causing Naruto to almost skip his own landing before he bounded forwards to grab the back of Sakura-chan’s dress-thing before she fell. He shot a look forward to see Riku-nii’s head had jerked up and he suddenly pushed himself faster. Naruto dropped his gaze to the ground beneath him to watch as Daisuke stopped and gave his own deeper howl in response.
“Riku,” Kaka-nii growled from where he had closed the distance behind the blond who had grabbed out a kunai in his free hand on reflex.
“Welcoming party, nii-san,” the said Hatake, shot a grin over his shoulder at the demand, even as Ayumu echoed the large grey’s howl. “You might be meeting Baa-san tonight after all.”
The Bastard grunted, then cautiously followed the Hatake from where he too had pulled to a stop at the first howl. When she saw this, Sakura-chan shook off Naruto’s grip and followed. Naruto looked up at Kaka-nii, and when he got a short nod, did the same.
They didn’t have to continue for long before Riku-nii jumped to the ground and they all perched themselves in the trees behind him to watch.
He had landed in front of an old lady with the same silver hair as both nii-sans, only longer with all of it braided back from her face. She was also wearing the same type of clothes as Riku-nii and stood there surrounded by three wolves about the same size as Daisuke.
The wrinkles on her face reminded Naruto of Hokage-jii, especially when he noticed the way she looked at Kaori and Daisuke who had stopped side-by-side beneath the trees they stood in.
It was the same one Hokage-jii gave him sometimes when he didn’t think Naruto was paying attention.
“Baa-san,” Riku-nii greeted happily.
“Brat, you were taking too long,” the old lady huffed. “Your Kaa-san has been making a nuisance of herself.”
Riku-nii ducked his head while the old lady looked up at them.
“Well, may as well get down here so I can get a look at you and your runts.” She spoke bluntly to Kaka-nii. Naruto might actually like her, if she didn’t keep calling him a runt. “Could hear you all tripping through the trees ages ago.”
Naruto felt a soft hand in his hair before Kaka-nii jumped down beside the grey wolves as Hayate also joined them. Naruto gulped and shot his team-mates a look before gathering himself and following, feeling both of them jump at the same time to land behind the wolves.
“So, you lot are a bunch of time traveling troublemakers?” The lady said, assessing them all.
“It would seem so, Tsukiko-sama,” Kaka-nii answered lightly with a small head tilt of acknowledgment.
She continued to look at Kaka-nii for a long moment before assessing them all again and giving a sharp nod.
“Well, it’s getting late. Might as well set up camp for the night.” She turned away and started back in the direction they had been heading before they ran into her. Her wolves spreading out around them.
Riku-nii looked back at them and gave a sheepish shrug, then followed. It looked like they had no choice but to do the same.
So to save my eyes, I may have tried out the word read aloud function and had to stop and reset it due to my laughter drowning it out everytime it got to Sasuke and reading it as Sat-tuk.
Hopefully it shouldn't take another almost month to get the next one out. Fingers-crossed.
Now, I'm out to finish up this project proposal that has been sitting on my head for the past week and taking up the time I had orginally set up for editing.
Nervously laughing about my last comment about it not taking almost a month for the next update. It didn't, I just accidentally took longer.
In other news, it is so much easier to write when I can breathe (chest infections are not fun).
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Kakashi waved the cubs to follow the other Hatakes. He fell back to cover their tails as he scanned the area. Fully trusting the woman still gave him a sick feeling but she was a possible source of help and they didn’t have a lot of options. Besides if Riku was to be believed, she was the Hatake Clan head and that kind of backing in this time could get them free pass through other Wild Clan territory, so long as they don’t bring their hosts any trouble they might not want.
By some miracle, the genin managed to remain mostly silent until Tsukiko-sama led them through the brambles into a hidden clear patch of ground. An area that still held the remnants of what could be expected of a regular campsite. The ground cleared in areas of anything that might be uncomfortable to sleep with, sticking in various parts of the sleeper’s anatomy. A basic attempt to cover up a well-used fire pit and a small stack of dry sticks set out of the way but easily found and accessible. The little things that Kakashi was familiar with noticing in long-used, designated patrol camps.
“Those cubs are exhausted,” the woman gruffly indicated the cubs with a tilt of her head, before flicking out a hand which sent her own wolf companions jumping back out of the cover. “We’ll head back to the main pack in the morning.”
“Thank you,” Kakashi muttered, inclining his own head. It wasn’t like he could argue, he’d been the one watching them struggle for the past few hours. It seemed a good enough spot to stop for the night and the Hatakes familiarity with the site was enough to settle Kakashi into thinking it was maintained, at least partially, by the clan. Which of course meant there were more protections on it than anywhere else they might stop if they keep pushing.
Kakashi looked down at where the cubs who had stopped moving further into the clearing after he had entered. He took in the three sets of darting eyes, closed both own and made his final decision.
“Set up camp.”
He opened his uncovered eye in time to catch Naruto’s quick glance and give a small nod before the boy started forward, swinging his pack off one shoulder. The other two took a little longer before they followed their teammate through the motions the academy and the brief trip to Wave had trained into them.
The entire endeavour was, of course, not without frequent glares from Sasuke while the boy worked.
Kakashi ignored them, keeping his attention on the woman, who kept her own eyes locked on his visible one. At least until Kakashi was forced to pull his gaze away from her to start pulling out the supplies he’d carried.
She snorted and turned to Riku grumbling about the younger man’s skills at getting a proper camp ready.
The conversation was kept to instructions and light gossip that the younger Hatake had missed while away until the sun had fully set. Daisuke had nudged the cubs onto their bedrolls and the scent of the meal was starting to rise from where it was cooking on the small campfire. Kaori and Hayate settled in to lie half leaning on either of Kakashi’s sides, and half in his lap, when he had settled on his own bedroll. The other two Hatakes had taken seats on their own on the opposite side of the fire.
It was hard to ignore the swapping of assessing glances spiralling the entire camp.
“So, my daughter’s runt says they’re yours,” Tsukiko-sama started with a significant look at the cubs. “And you are all from some time where Clan has lost its importance.”
“Baa-san!” Riku yelped, gaining himself a glare for interrupting while Kakashi blinked at the blunt opening to the topic. Riku only looked down and grumbled. “That’s not what I said.”
Kakashi took his time, weighing up his options on how to explain as much as he could to people who had only ever known another way of life. People who had never seen or even conceived of the idea of the Village systems, while he had never known anything else. One gloved hand wove unconsciously into course fur as he thought.
Be truthful, but in a way that they can still understand it. Simple was best after all and less likely to trip them up.
“According to Village law genin are considered adults in their own right, but as their jounin sensei I am technically a guardian… of sorts.” Kakashi started slowly, before any of the cubs could jump in and say anything that might contradict what they need everyone to understand here. “But in the current circumstances, I’m pretty sure everything I know about Clan law also states they would be considered mine here.”
“Hmm,” the woman looked them all over thoroughly. “And this Village? Genin? Jounin? Explain.”
“Konoha, the Village of Fire Country Shinobi,” Kakashi started, lifting the hand not running through grey fur up to his hitai-ate, fingering the familiar mark engraved there as he searched for inspiration. “All the clans that joined helped stabilise mission rates and ensured that the skills needed were included in those sent to take it. Mixing clan members into teams to get the right balance, that kind of thing. Also allowed new civilian blood to be trained in skills and safe space for innovation in techniques. Genin and Jounin are skill ranks. Genin, new to the field, then chunin, then jounin.”
Kakashi tried to keep it simple, knowing he left out a lot but hoped he’d given enough of the idea that she could work with it.
Tsukiko-sama just hummed and continued to watch them.
Kakashi’s newly born instincts for one of the genin about to do something inadvisable chirped at him and he turned to glare in their direction. Given that Naruto had opened his mouth and was about to break the silence that fell over them, it was probably a good thing. That was a hard-enough explanation to come up with, who knows what the unpredictable knucklehead would say that could force him to say more.
The blond boy quickly snapped his mouth shut at Kakashi’s attention and thankfully decided to rethink what he was about to say.
They all remained in silent contemplation, until the meal had finished cooking and was handed out.
Sasuke scowled down at his empty bowl. The addition of the food the old woman, both the older men had referred to her as the Hakate Clan Head, had brought with her to the now overfamiliar taste of the camp meals they had been having the past few days was a very nice change. But having to spend the entire meal attempting not to shift under the looks she kept giving him was distracting and slightly disturbing.
(She’d been doing it to all of them really, but he refused to allow himself to acknowledge that he cared about that.)
She’d been watching them closely the entire time since their Sensei had given that stupid attempt at an explanation and it was really getting on his nerves.
(Proper use of cover names was a basic shinobi skill and he refused to fall behind the Idiot, but that didn’t mean he had to use them in his own thoughts. He was smart enough to keep cover without the student cheat of keeping to them in your mind. Especially when he kept feeling like he would choke every time he was forced to refer to the man by that term.)
Sasuke looked around the camp and noted he wasn’t the only one who had finished eating. The old woman’s gaze on him again was the last straw of that stupid day. He looked up and flashed chakra into his eyes, feeling the way his Sharingan spun into them. Hopefully that would get her to look away like so many of the villagers would when one of his Clan had done the same, before.
She just huffed a laugh and kept on looking right back.
“Put those away, Runt.” A smirk pulled at the edge of her mouth. “I’ve dealt with enough of your full-grown kin, those baby eyes of yours aren’t going to do anything but exhaust you more.”
Sasuke blinked the red tinge away as his scowl deepened.
“Looks like Riku wasn’t mistaken when he said you had an Uchiha boy,” she said, casually turning to address Kakashi-sensei, who looked back levelly. “He also mentioned a Uzumaki boy and a civilian girl. But the only tell of that is the chakra.”
A moments silence overtook the group at that, everyone stilling their movements and staring at each other.
“Naruto has his father’s colouring,” Kakashi gave a slight nod.
Sasuke felt the way both his teammates jerked violently beside him. He bit down his own slightly smug reaction, they had hidden his own much smaller response to the information. It was the second time the older man had revealed that he might have known something about the Idiot’s parents. Sasuke was intrigued despite himself, he hadn’t heard much mention of the blond’s parents in all the years he had been even slightly aware of the boy. The way everyone was reacting made it seem that there was a reason for that.
He was really starting to feel he had missed something big somewhere.
“He’s mostly Uzumaki under it.”
“So, he has his mother’s clan name?” The old woman seemed to focus on the Idiot as he looked at Kakashi-sensei in shock.
“Father was civ-born,” the jounin looked away from them all quickly and Hayate seemed to wiggle a little further back into the man’s lap.
“Hmm,” the old woman tapped her fingers on her thigh as she thought. “I think we can work with that.”
“Kaka-nii…” Sasuke jumped a little at the odd sounding note in the Idiot’s voice as he tried to get the man’s attention. Sasuke looked between them, even as the blond cut himself off as the jounin shook his head slightly, still looking away.
“How old are you?” The old woman snapped out.
“Twenty-six,” Kakashi-sensei jumped slightly and blinked at the woman slowly before he responded. “They’re twelve.”
“I thought you might be around that, to get those two,” the woman mused with a flick of her hand at the two grey wolves. She looked them all over again and muttered as if to herself. “That should work.”
“You have something?” Kakashi-sensei looked at her.
“About thirty years ago, my youngest son ran off with an Inuzuka girl. Headed off toward Uzu,” the woman started, frown on her face as she spoke.
“Haru-oji-san?” Riku sat up and looked at his grandmother.
Hayate sat up from his place beside Kakashi-sensei at the conversation.
“Yes,” the Hatake woman answered her grandson with a solemn nod, before continuing. “They kept contact for a few years but dropped out of touch between then and twenty years ago. We had a couple of emergency summonings that pulled some of his summons who mentioned deaths, but we do know there was a child about Nanami’s age.”
“Enoki,” the russet wolf muttered, gaining everyone’s attention.
Sasuke would just very much like everything to make sense again.
Hatake-san looked deeply at the wolf, but then shrugged the outburst off to focus on the main issue.
“We didn’t get the child’s name so it shouldn’t be too hard to put your name in the record,” the old woman continued, then looking at the three genin. “As for them, you would have needed to be trained by someone, and even the most careful shinobi men can be careless in their relations.”
“Mission children?” Kakashi-sensei asked with a look at them.
Sasuke stiffened at the implication. He was the son of the last clan-head of the Uchiha and they want to call him a half-born outsider.
The useless spare, a deep voice swam through his thoughts and he immediately pushed it away.
Sasuke let a growl out as he glared back at his teacher.
“Will that be considered enough of a cover to call them mine by Wild Clan law?” Kakashi continued, ignoring Sasuke’s reaction.
“If we imply they were alone when you picked them up and had no way of contacting the clan,” the woman shrugged. “You just picked up cubs with chakra reserves that could be trained.”
“Not that hard if they weren’t known to the clan before,” Riku also jumped in. “Should be able to get the other wild clans to back you on that.”
Kakashi-sensei hummed and nodded as if agreeing to this idea. Sasuke continued to glare at the man, ignoring his teammates’ reaction to all of it.
How dare he make such a decision like that without asking them, me, whether it would be fine? Sasuke’s temper flared at it all.
You know it’s a reasonable cover, another thought broke through his anger, even as he tried to ignore it. If this isn’t some weird training trick, or exercise, and this time-travel thing is real, you know what would happen if you try and claim your history to the clan.
(Blood splattered the ground, the walls, clothes. Intricate dark patterns spiralled in crimson eyes.)
He shook the memory off and focused on the Jounin’s face, what little of it was visible anyway, but his eyes caught on the way his hitai-ate slanted over that eye. The scarred one that he had only shown in battle with Zabuza in Wave.
Sasuke swallowed all his objections, for all he knew they were perfectly reasonable. Instead he asked the question on the topic that had yet to be brought up.
“And the eye?”
Doing things a little backwards this time, time to get to answering the lovely comments.
Kakashi’s hand reached up automatically to his hitai-ate at the blunt question. Of course, Sasuke would have thought of that, even though Kakashi had forgotten (and not wanted to think about).
The Uchiha would remember how big of an issue it could turn out to be.
They would need to work out how to figure it out on top of everything else. Excuse him if he had so much to keep on mind to survive this ridiculous situation that there were some things slipping through.
“What eye?” Tsukiko-sama asked, even as her own eyes followed the movement of his hand. Riku looked between Kakashi and the Uchiha in confusion.
Kakashi grimaced and lifted the hitai-ate to reveal Obito’s eye.
The two other Hatakes stared. The image they presented a nice difference from most of what he had stuck in the permanent storage of memories he had built up since he had been gifted the eye.
“Lost mine on the same mission my teammate was fatally injured,” Kakashi managed to choke out past the stone that had seemed to grow in his throat. “He survived long enough to offer his eye as a replacement.”
Kaori yipped softly, causing Kakashi to look down at the wolf only to realise his hand had gripped the grey fur in his hand when it clenched tighter than he meant it to. He gently released the hand and softly ran those same fingers through the patch of fur as an apology.
“Oh,” Tsukiko-sama said softly, peering at him. “That might be a little more difficult.”
“He just gave you a sharingan?” Sasuke asked incredulous. “And everyone just let you keep it?”
“Last request.” Kakashi wheezed out through the guilt and memories the boy’s outburst drew higher in his throat from where they usually sat. Kaori shuffled even closer, now almost entirely covering his lap.
“His family didn’t object when you got back?” Sasuke continued, glaring at the still uncovered sharingan.
“He didn’t have any direct family left, just distant cousins.” Kakashi heard himself say, seemingly from the end of a very long tunnel, memories swimming over his eyes. He felt the way both his hands clenched into grey fur. “Your mother shouted the elders down about it, considering everything else that they had done to him.”
“Kaka-nii.” Kakashi snapped out of his daze at the soft sound of Naruto calling him. The jounin looked around at everyone and realised that the silence after he last spoke must have continued too long to be comfortable. All eyes in the clearing were directed at him.
Kakashi quickly flicked the hitai-ate back over Obito’s eye and cleared his throat.
“Hmm.” Tsukiko-sama hummed, a gleam in her eye similar to the one he had seen and ignored too often when directed at him by the Sandiame.
Silence fell in the clearing when it seemed the older woman was thinking.
“Finding one Uchiha mission baby is rare enough, covering for two will be a little more complicated.” She said thoughtfully, gaze carefully analysing each member of team 7 in turn. “Give me the night to fit it together.”
Kakashi nodded and looked over at the genin. He took in the way they were all obviously fighting exhaustion, even as they all seemed to be trying to keep up with the conversation. Sakura was tilting slightly to the side, Sasuke was blinking a little too often and long and Naruto wasn’t bouncing in his place as much as Kakashi had come to expect from him.
“It’s been a long day,” Kakashi agreed, voice vague. “Maybe we all need the night to think things over. Sage knows all this is a bit much to deal with in one hit.”
Tsukiko-sama barked a laugh at that and nodded, which left Kakashi to start to wave the cubs into their bedrolls.
He dealt with their grumbling that they weren’t tired from the boys (and Sakura’s belated joining in when her brain caught up with what was going on) with familiarity. Which is to say he offhandedly called their bullshit with a shit-eating grin and pointed out they would do a lot better with meeting the Hatake clan while they were fresh and able to keep their stories straight.
Of course, Riku was now familiar with the way their team had of interacting with each other, but when Kakashi turned back to them after finally managing to get the genin to at least lie down he caught the amused look directed at him from Tsukiko-sama. It was one of those complicated expressions that seemed to be a show of multiple emotions at once, and it was what was shining there with the amusement that caused Kakashi to look away quickly.
His own feelings were complicated enough to deal with at the moment, and being forced to at least try and give his genin some consideration for theirs. He didn’t have the emotional range to try and interpret what was going on with someone else he had essentially just met. So long as it didn’t seem that anyone was going to make themselves a threat to Team 7, and he didn’t need his emotional intelligence to judge that, just his experience so he wasn’t going to try.
“Thank you for this, Tsukiko-sama,” Kakashi said, bowing his head when he settled back down on his own bedroll.
“None of that now.” The older woman waved her hand in as if to brush his thanks away. “You’re obviously one of mine, and those cubs of yours need the help. If you are going to fit in the role of my lost grandson, you might as well play the part properly.”
“I understand that this is all a little hard to believe…” Kakashi started again, after cautiously checking on the genin.
“In my experience, a shinobi with your level of skill would give a more believable story if you were trying to infiltrate my clan,” Tsukiko-sama stopped him before he could continue. Then nodded at Riku who was still sitting silently beside her. “Besides, this Runt of mine told me what you did for him. We look after our own.”
Kakashi looked to Riku who looked away with a faint blush on his pale cheeks, whether about the fact that his grandmother was still calling him a runt or for having to report the fact that he had needed help.
Kakashi looked back at the genin who had either taken the opportunity to fall into exhausted slumber or were faking the same very effectively. His eye lingered on the Uchiha longer when an old muttered comment he had heard so long ago he had almost forgot it floated into his mind.
“Tsukiko-sama…” He started as he turned back.
“Baa-san.” She gruffly corrected, stopping him in his tracks as he stared at her.
“Baa-san,” he started again after a pause. “Not sure how much it will help in the calculations you’re doing, but I remember some talk about the Uchiha clan having a strong attachment aspects.”
“You wouldn’t know it, with the way they deal with their cubs,” Riku blinked at Kakashi.
“Something about them being forbidden to follow the instinct,” Kakashi answered the bewildered look. “I’m not entirely sure. I kept away from most of them, after.”
Kakashi gestured to his covered eye in explanation of his last comment.
Tsukiko-sama just hummed and nodded.
“I can work with that.”
Tsukiko watched as the lost Hatake stood again to check on his cubs.
She hadn’t exactly been sure what to make of Riku’s message when it had first come through. The story was ridiculous. Time travel, a group of different clan and civilian children just handed over to be trained by someone of another clan, it was something even one of the youngest of her clan’s cubs wouldn’t come up with on the spot as a lie.
But he had given his help to Riku, even making use of some sort of advanced medical jutsu to heal what Tsukiko was guessing was a worse wound than the runt had reported to her. And that was despite the fact that he was the sole adult to care for his cubs (and they were his despite his falling back on “technicalities” as he tried to explain the relationship).
Then there was Daisuke and Kaori.
Tsukiko had never expected to see those beautiful grey coats again after Nanami…
Sage, I’ve grown sentimental in my old age.
Tsukiko shook her head to get it back on track as she watched the masked man absently crouch and stroke Daisuke’s coat as checked the on the blond Uzumaki.
It had intrigued her to say the least, prompting her to come out and meet them at the border, wanting to see what she could make of them in person.
Tsukiko hadn’t survived to watch her grown grandchildren take solo missions in chaos of Fire Country without being able to judge another shinobi’s skills.
And this masked Hatake moved like one of her own children, the ones that she had been sending into the field alone for more than twenty years in service to the clan and Pack. Well-trained, experienced and skilled enough to get the job done, no matter how many opponents he faced and managed to get back alive.
(His cubs were a different story of course, but the clan can help him remedy some of that. If they were his, they were theirs too now. He was a Hatake and so long as he held to the Clan Code they had no reason to treat him otherwise.)
But there was something else too. Riku had said there was something odd about the man in his letter, but she didn’t realise what that might mean until she had seen him interact herself.
He was the closet to going fully feral that she had seen in years, and yet he seemed to remain calm enough to deal with the cubs. A lone Hatake that somehow hadn’t fallen into the worst. And from what Tsukiko understood from the conversation they’d had, he had been that way for longer than she had thought possible (years even) without snapping.
The way he reacted to having to talk about that eye, and the teammate who left it to him, maybe she could work with that. She had also noticed that he seemed to have a particular habit of checking on the blond more automatically than the other two, there was knowledge there that seemed to be missing in the cubs.
“Get some rest,” Tsukiko ordered the two Hatakes when Kakashi settled down again in his spot. “The wolves will be enough to keep watch tonight.”
So, life is a thing.
Hopefully the next one shouldn't take as long. *fingers crossed*