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Ear to the Wall

Chapter Text

 

When Kakashi opens his eyes, he realizes he’s drowning.

The world around him is waterlogged and muted, spinning in all directions. His chest is on fire, and when he gapes his mouth wide to gasp in a breath, there’s nothing there to breathe. His head is pounding and eerily silent all at once, as if there’s a war going on inside of it but he’s gone deaf to all the noise. He can’t focus on any one thing, but rather all of  it at once.

Eventually, he comes to figure out that there’s a pressure against him, at his left side. He shoves at it, and it falls away. Second later, it comes back a hundredfold, ramming into him with a force that, had he any breath in him, it would have been knocked out with prejudice.

He blinks moisture from his eyes, and finally realizes the pressure is a surface- two surfaces. A bed, and the floor. Currently, his body lay pressed against hardwood. It was cold and wet. Or, Kakashi was cold and wet.

He pushes up off the floor, uneasily putting feet beneath him and attempting to find a center. He wobbles upright painfully slowly, still uncertain which was was truly up. He thinks he’s home, because while there is blind panic and pain, there is a faint sense of familiarity. Not quite safe, but when was he really, anymore?

He carefully turns himself around and stumbles to where he thinks the bathroom door is. He grabs the knob and wrenches it open, body tilting forward precariously into the room, only to get an abrupt face full of dry, musty fabrics.

Kakashi tears himself back, feet falling over himself. He hits the floor again, hard, and stares up dumbly at the open bathroom. Except, it’s not the bathroom. It’s a closet.

Kakashi doesn’t have a closet.

Or, he ponders at the back of a sickenly pulsating mind, he hadn’t had a closet in a while- not in years, actually. He turns his head, eyes scanning the room he’s sitting on the floor of. His eyes go in and out of focus. They’re having trouble staying in place whenever he aims them at something. Things are close, and then further away and blurrier than they had been a second ago, and he doesn’t even blink. Eventually, Kakashi pieces together his location.

Yes, it’s his apartment. At the same time, it isn’t, because Kakashi hasn’t owned this apartment since he was ten years old.

Still, it wasn’t like he doesn’t remember the layout. Teetering on unsteady limbs, the ninja hauls himself back to his feet and maneuvers his body, which was being rather difficult with him at the moment, toward where he recalls the bathroom to actually be. This time, when he opens the door, it’s not a closet, and he practically collapses onto the tile. He almost doesn’t make it to the toilet.

When he finishes attempting to expel the nauseating pit of whatever it was from his stomach, and failing, he pulls the lever with a weak, shaking hand that his eyes are convinced is farther away than it should be, and rests his clammy, sweaty forehead against the porcelain seat. He closes his eyes, and just sits here for a moment, too tired and miserable to even think.

Kakashi isn’t quite certain how long he’s there, on the floor of the bathroom in the apartment he’d sold before he was even a teenager. He pukes three more times- he thinks, it might have been more, he wasn’t exactly counting here- and all that comes up is bile, burning through his esophagus and leaving a sick, acidic taste in his mouth. It could have been hours, or days, or minutes. Maybe he falls asleep, but he isn’t sure.

He blinks once, and finds himself on the floor, not sure how he got there and staring at his hand that lies on the tile next to his face. It’s still too small, too far away. Which is weird, once his eyes have finally stopped shaking all around in his skull, they are able to focus on everything else now except, it seems, himself. He blinks a few more times in the hopes to better adjust them, but his own body remains strangely distorted in comparison to his surroundings. Like the world is there, existing, but Kakashi is not. Or suppose to be, but having trouble doing it all the way.

Kakashi frowns, dizzy and sick and irritated that he is having so much trouble with something as simple as existing in the reality that he has, until now, had zero complications existing in.

The door thumps oddly. Kakashi stares at it with dull eyes, puzzled that it is making noise when, last he’d checked, doors were inanimate objects that generally remain silent when left on their own.

It thumps again, and says, “Kakashi?”

Kakashi blinks. He wonders what kind of reality he is trying to exist in here, where doors are able to speak to people, and sound like his old sensei.

He supposes that, in a weird, abstract way, it somewhat makes sense. Doors are dead trees, after all, and Minato-sensei is also dead. Is this what happens to people when they die? Kakashi pauses for a moment, and wonders if he himself is dead. Maybe that’s why he‘s having trouble existing here. He hasn’t possessed a door like his sensei had. Maybe he would become the toilet, instead, since he’s so close to it right now.

Kakashi can’t help but assume that to be a rather... undesirable existence. He doesn’t think he’d been that terrible when he’d been alive, had he? No puppies had been kicked, certainly, no babies eaten, no Icha Icha left unread.

Kakashi doesn’t think he really deserves to be a toilet.

“Kakashi?” The door asks once more, this time opening itself in its apparent worry for him. It was nice of it to be concerned like that, but Kakashi finds himself wondering when it was that it had closed in the first place. He doesn’t remember shutting it when he’d come in. Maybe it had closed itself, being sentient and all, to give him some privacy while he was upchucking his own stomach. How kind.

Kakashi’s eyes fall shut again, too heavy for him to keep open, and he turns his face against the tile. It‘s nice and cold. It feels soothing on his clammy skin. The world isn’t throwing itself in all directions anymore, and he definitely feels grateful that it has at last decided to settle down.

A pressure slips underneath his limp body, lifting him away from the floor. It feels like hands. Does the door have hands? Kakashi mourns the loss of the stable surface that the floor had provided. At least he isn’t drowning anymore.

“Oh, Kakashi…” the door sighs quietly.

 

 

The second time Kakashi wakes up, he thinks about the first, and has to pause for a moment, because holy fuck, what a fever dream!

Or not? He’d obviously been high on something last night. He’d been hallucinating pretty hard. Doors that could talk and sounded like Minato-sensei, honestly? What the hell?

He sits up, carefully, already anticipating the hangover before it even comes.

And it does come, crashing down upon him with a vengeful fury, angry that he’d made such terrible life choices. Kakashi doesn’t really blame it.

His head throbs so powerfully that he has to lie down again, but sits right back up and brings his hands around to his front, palms facing up toward the ceiling and fingers spread out wide. He stares down at them, absolutely befuddled.

They’re still too small.

Before he has a chance to contemplate whether or not he is still under the influence, as is so clearly the case, the door of the bedroom he’s in (again, his childhood apartment. Now that his heads a bit clearer, Kakashi realizes that this apartment isn’t even suppose to standing anymore. It had been destroyed in Pein’s attack on Konoha, and not been rebuilt. Which now begs the question; how is Kakashi here, when here doesn’t exist?).

“Kakashi,” someone says, and Kakashi thinks he’s sober enough now to know that it isn’t the door.

He still must be a little high, though, because that’s definitely Minato-sensei’s voice speaking.

Then someone steps into the room, and Kakashi looks at them, at him, and just blinks for a moment, hoping that‘ll clear up his vision a bit. He’s still hallucinating, clearly, because that’s Minato-sensei standing there, with Minato-sensei’s relieved smile and Minato-sensei’s blonde hair.

Kakashi pushes at the energy that exists inside of him, until it’s outside him and in the air, reaching outward, feeling, tasting, and- there. Minato-sensei’s chakra.

Just to make sure, Kakashi opens his mouth, and croaks out (in a voice that is not his, mind), “Minato-sensei?”

The Minato-sensei beams at him, and replies, “Kakashi! I’m glad you’re awake,” and, yup, that’s Minato-sensei’s voice.

Kakashi falls back down against the bed, closing his eyes. It’s too short of a way down, and he clenches hands that are too tiny and feeble and not his in dog-print sheets he hasn’t owned for decades.

Kakashi feels like crying. Why doesn’t it make sense?

 

Chapter Text

“Are you sure you want to go into training today, Kakashi?” Minato asks for what seems like the hundredth time, and it may be repetitive, but so is Kakashi’s answer of “I’m fine,” which, clearly, is an absolute lie.

Even forgetting the fact that Minato had literally walked in on the boy regurgitating his guts not half an hour ago, Kakashi looks like he’d just walked out of hell and hadn’t even received the complimentary t-shirt to smooth things over. The bags under the kid’s eyes look like they have bags of their own, standing out in stark contrast against his paler-than-normal skin. His clothes are soaked through with sweat, face clammy, eyes half-lidded and duller than Kushina’s kitchen knives. Minato had dragged the boy off the bathroom floor and plopped him into a kitchen chair twenty minutes ago, and he hasn’t moved a muscle since.

Kakashi’s eyes flicker up to his, and then back down to where his hands are clasped in his lap. “Yeah.”

Minato narrows his eyes.

“Are you,” he asks, “really sure that you’ll be able to, um, keep up with the others? You look a little bit…”

Like shit, he wants to say, but the last time he’d cursed in front of a kid, Kushina had somehow found out about it despite being away on a mission all the way in Grass Country at the time, and there had been some not-very-fun things to pay when she’d gotten home.

Kakashi coughs, and it sounds like his spleen has lodged itself in his throat for a second before he swallows it back down again. Minato grimaces.

“Yeah,” he repeats, dully.

“Well, I’m not sure that I want you out there, when you’re looking like this,” Minato says a little too loudly, pushing up from his chair.

There’s a short moment of silence. Kakashi glances up at him from beneath his lashes, presses his chapped lips together, and averts his gaze to the floor. Minato immediately feels like a jerk for raising his voice.

It’s been awkward between the two of them, since Kakashi’s father had… well. Minato is the only adult in Kakashi’s life left who has any sort of guardianship ties with him. They hadn't been a team for very long preceding the suicide, and even before then Kakashi hadn’t known Minato all that well. Right now, Minato is as good as a stranger to Kakashi, a stranger who has say in his life and can make decisions for him.

Sometimes Minato can’t help but think Kakashi probably resents him for that, just a bit.

He sits back down with a sigh, folding his hands into his lap and staring down at them like they held all the answers he was looking for. Kakashi stay still across the table from him, silent. Minato can feel his stare, but he doesn’t dare glance up to meet it. He doesn’t feel like he can face whatever he’d find there right now.

“I’m just,” He begins, quieter, and then trails of with another sigh, rubbing the bridge of his nose with his fingers. “You’re sick, Kakashi.”

Kakashi stares at him.

“Wh-When people are sick, they tend to stay home and rest so they can get better,” Minato tries again.

Kakashi sniffs.

Minato looks up, blinking in alarm at the way Kakashi’s eyes have taken on a watery edge. He stands up again, this time circling around the table to kneel beside the boy’s chair.

“Uh, Kakashi, are you—“

“I don’t wanna be a toilet,” Kakashi mumbles under his breath, reaching up a gloved hand to rub at his face. He’s still dressed in his clothes from yesterday, hadn’t even bothered to change into pajamas, which is a sign that something is wrong in and of itself, Minato thinks, before he wonders briefly whether Kakashi even owns pajamas. He just, doesn’t seem like the type of person to have flannel in his life.

Also, what?

“Of course you don’t,” Minato soothes, rubbing a hand between Kakashi’s shoulders. He pushes his bewilderment aside for the moment, figuring Kakashi just means that he was tired of puking, which, who wouldn’t be? The poor kid shudders beneath his touch.

Minato bites his lip. “And, um, you probably aren’t hungry after all of… that, but you look like you could eat. Do you wanna try to get something down, or—?”

Kakashi is shaking his head before Minato can even finish his sentence. “Nngh,” He says, and looks increasingly queasy at the very mention of food.

“Alright, so,” Minato says, and gestures helplessly for a second, unsure, “we should—we should probably get you into bed, then, so you can, um, rest this away and all that...?”

“Mm,” Kakashi replies, and then doesn’t move at all.

Minato smiles weakly, and wonders what he’s suppose to do now.


Kakashi has absolutely no idea what’s going on.

It was one thing to hallucinate vision and sound, but touch? Smell? Even if Kakashi’s brain had the imaginative ability to dream up a delusion of this magnitude—which he wasn’t quite sure it did, but it has surprised him before, so who knows—Kakashi would have bet more on it choosing to base it within one of the many traumatic events that peppered his existence, rather than whatever this weird, slice-of-life type setting is suppose to be.

Minato-sensei, who was very much dead and gone, thank you very much, is making him chicken soup in the kitchen of his childhood apartment that didn’t exist. Minato-sensei didn’t cook, because he was really bad at it and Kushina-neechan had long since forbidden him from stepping foot within any room that even resembled a kitchen whatsoever.

Kakashi peels down his mask—a dark navy blue, instead of the mute black he’d taken to during his stint in ANBU and had never gone back—tilts his head back against the pillow and takes a deep inhale through his nose. He coughs roughly, tears pricking at the corner of his eyes, at the scent of burning rice.

Dream or not, Kakashi’s apartment is about to go down in flames years prematurely, and the only thing going through Kakashi’s head right now, because he simply does not want to think about anything deeper, is that he has to stop this before the consequences become irreversible.

He throws back the thin sheet he’s been lying under and stumbles his way out of the bedroom, somehow making it down the short, narrow hallway without running face-first into a wall which, honestly, counts as a small victory. He narrows his eyes at his socked toes, placing each foot carefully in front of the other on the linoleum, because apparently they refuse to do so themselves, and finally looks up when he sees another pair of feet encroach on his vision. He raises a shaky hand, and taps on the middle of the back—the only spot he can reach at the moment—of the Minato-sensei currently staring with great concentration at the stove top.

The man jumps, sloshing boiling water across the counter top, and spins around with a hand held to his heart. “K-Kakashi! Y-You’re suppose to be asleep!”

Kakashi blinks up at him, and slowly brings a hand up to point over at the rice cooker, which has a thin trail of smoke billowing from the vent. It’s a little concerning that this Minato-sensei had not only been startled by Kakashi, who doesn’t think he was being all that quiet, what with all the running into furniture he’d been doing on the way to the kitchen, but also hadn’t noticed the sharp smell of burning grains. Seems weird, is all, that a ninja would experience such tunnel-vision.

“Wh- Oh,” the Minato-sensei exclaims, and rushes over to fan at the smoke with a panicked expression on his face.

Kakashi stares at him for a moment.

“Could you, um, get some water, I don’t—”

Kakashi closes his eyes, sighs quietly against the mask he doesn’t remember pulling back up, and goes over to unplug the cooker from the wall socket.

Minato goes still, and stands there staring at the cord in Kakashi’s hand for a moment without speaking. After a few seconds, he begins to laugh sheepishly, scratching at the back of his head and averting his gaze to the kitchen’s open window.

A pang of grief strikes Kakashi in the gut at the familiar embarrassed tick, and for a moment the Minato-sensei standing before him has whisker marks on both cheeks, before they vanish when Kakashi blinks. The nin sucks in a ragged breath, drops the cord to the floor, doubling over himself and burying his face into his hands, like the action of covering his eyes would make what he is seeing disappear. He takes a shaky step forward and rests his forehead against the table just so that he doesn’t have to bear the entirety of his own weight anymore.

Despite being in a body too small, he feels heavier than he had when he’d been the right size.

A click sounds as the stove burner is turned off, and a hand places itself gently, hesitantly, against his back. “Kakashi?”

He presses his hands harder against his face, digging the palms into his eye sockets and making spots appear against the black of his vision.

“... Maybe I should take you to the hospital,” is murmured quietly, more to Minato-sensei himself than for Kakashi to hear, but he still hears and let’s his shoulder drop from where they’d been held up near his ears with tension.

“No,” he says, straightening from the table and looking up at a worried Minato-sensei.

There’s a strange sort of calm suddenly enveloping him, and he almost sighs at the absence of the incredulous panic that‘s been plaguing him since he’d woken up the first time.

Minato-sensei sighs, running a hand through his hair. And it’s definitely Minato-sensei’s hair, nobody else is that blonde, not even Naruto. “Kakashi, I really think—”

“What’s the date?” Kakashi asks, listing to the side a bit. He catches himself on the edge of the table and uses it as leverage to hoist himself into a chair.

Minato-sensei is eying him, a look of great concern on his face. “It’s the twelfth of April, Kakashi—are you sure you don’t want to see a doctor?”

Kakashi blinks at him. Who in their right mind wants to see a doctor? 

“Yeah,” he says, and looks around for a calendar, because it’s one thing asking for the day and month, but the year? Minato-sensei would check him into the psych ward for sure, which. Is a rather undesirable outcome, if you ask Kakashi.

There’s one on the fridge, held up by a weird smiley face magnet that smells distinctly of Rin, with a hint of Minato-sensei, and Kakashi wishes he’d looked for it before he’d asked, because all the information he wants is listed right there.

Well, hindsight.

It’s almost a year after his father died.

Kakashi looks away from the calendar to find Minato-sensei staring at him, glancing over the the fridge and then back at Kakashi with a look of sorrow in his blue eyes.

The blonde nin pulls out one of the other three kitchen chairs—why does he have so many when it was always only just him?—and hauls it next to Kakashi’s, sitting in it with a soft, quiet sigh.

“Kakashi,” he starts, and then stops.

In the ensuing silence, Kakashi risks a glance at the man from underneath his bangs—he has bangs again, this is weird—to find Minato-sensei looking more lost than he can ever remember seeing the man, and turns back to stare at the table in thought.

April, the year after his father died.

Minato-sensei has only been his pseudo-guardian for barely six-months, at this point. Though technically he’d held the position for the months before that, Minato had only become sensei of Team Seven when Rin and Obito had become genin, which was last November, going by the dates.

Kakashi wants to scream, but stops to wonder if he even has the energy for it right now.

“Why don’t you go back to bed? Call one of your ninken, maybe? I haven’t seen them in a while, I bet they’d like to stretch their legs,” Minato-sensei is saying from beside him. Kakashi glances at him to find him also staring at the table. He looks over to catch Kakashi’s eye, and returns his gaze to the wooden surface awkwardly.

“Plus,” he adds, sounding like he’s making excuses, “I’d feel better knowing you had someone looking after you, and Pakkun is a smart dog.”

“Don’t cook anymore,” Kakashi hears himself say, fingers already forming the Ram seal without realizing he's doing it.

“Right,” Minato-sensei has the decency to look embarrassed. “I won’t.”

There’s a puff of smoke, and Pakkun is there immediately, looking smaller and with a younger face. Kakashi can’t bring himself to look at him any closer than that, so he has no idea what expression the dog is wearing, but judging from Minato’s raised brows, maybe he doesn’t want to.

The sensei kneels before Pakkun, looking the dog in the eye. His ninken had always liked Minato-sensei, because he treated them like comrades, talking to them directly like they’re their own persons. Not everyone, even ninja sometimes, have the presence of mind to do that.

“Take care of him for me, alright?” Minato-sensei says, holding out a fist.

Pakkun raises a paw and touches it to his knuckles. Kakashi sees it from the corner of his eyes, refusing to look up from the tabletop. For some reason, something in him finds it hilarious, and he buries his face into his arms to stave off a bout of unwelcome laughter.

“Hai,” he hears Pakkun bark, softly.

Minato-sensei’s hand comes to rest on his back a few seconds later, staying there long enough to leave behind warmth when it leaves. Kakashi hears the door to the apartment open and shut.

There’s a click of nail against wood as Pakkun hops up on the table, nails clacking as he walks across it to nose at Kakashi’s hair.

“What’s the matter with you, Little Boss?” The dog wonders.

Kakashi breaks.

Chapter Text

He’s on house arrest.

Of course, Minato-sensei and Pakkun don'tcall it that, per say, but the results are kind of exactly the same. Can Kakashi leave the apartment? No, Kakashi is sick, and needs to stay home and rest. Does it matter if Kakashi has business outside that he needs to take care of? What sort of business could Kakashi, who is very sick mind you, have to take care of today? All he had was training, and Minato-sensei has already excused him from that today.

Excused him from seeing Rin and Obito again.

Kakashi can’t decide whether or not he hates himself, when all he can dredge up in response to that is feelings of bone-weary relief. He doesn’t think he’s ready to see them again. He doesn’t think he’ll ever be. They’ve been dead to him for years. He’d barely been able to handle seeing Minato-sensei and, as he glances down at the paper napkin he was mindlessly shredding in his hands as a worried ninken watches on, he wonders if he isactually handling that at all.

“Little Boss?” Pakkun asks again, insistent, and Kakashi grimaces beneath his mask.

Pakkun and the other ninken, the older ninken that he’d been handed down from his dad after the man’s death, had all called him this in the beginning. Back before Kakashi had proven himself as a capable ninja and, more importantly, a capable comrade. It wasn’t until he’d called for Pakkun in desperation during a rather botched mission at the border, when he was ten, that the old pug had started dropping the “Little” and just used “Boss”. The other ninken had followed his lead.

Kakashi hasn’t been called Little Boss for decades. Something deep inside his chest aches viciously at the reminder that, no matter how much he’d secretly been hoping against hope, this Pakkun isn’t his Pakkun. Not from the future, and not now, when a seven year old Kakashi has yet to prove he is a worthy summoner.

“I’m,” He starts, and then clears his throat when the word catches. “I’m fine.”

“You’re not,” Pakkun tells him, lifting a paw and striking it firmly, if gentler than Kakashi expected, over his head.

He winces anyway, and rubs at the spot. The pug looks down his nose at him. “What’s the matter with you, today? I haven’t seen you cry since, well…”

Pakkun falls silent. Kakashi glances at the calendar on the fridge, and shreds another corner off the napkin, letting it fall down to the table with the rest of itself.

The pug sniffs at him, almost reproachfully, and instead of continuing on the same vein, says, “You reek, Little Boss. You could use a bath.”

“Mm,” Kakashi replies, neither agreeing or disagreeing.

Pakkun narrows his eyes. “Since you’re apparently paralyzed, I’ll go draw one up for you. But you better take it, alright?”

“Mm,” Kakashi says again, eyes being drawn to the window. It’d be best, he thinks, if this past-version of Pakkun left him alone for a moment. He needs time to… adjust.

The ninken whuffs at his hair one last time before hopping down off the table. He casts one final glance back at Kakashi, who continues to stare out the window and doesn’t meet his gaze, before trotting off down the hallway to the bathroom.

The sky is bright outside, the overcast of thin white clouds reflecting the light of the sun down on the world. Kakashi drops what’s left of the napkin down on the table and leans back in his seat with a soft sigh.

He’s alone. Well, he is and he isn’t. He’s got Minato-Sensei, and Pakkun, on that hand he’s got the rest of his team and literally everyone else who’d died and, now, in this moment in time, hasn’t yet. On the other hand, everyone Kakashi had known and gotten close to and cherished from this point onward until the until the very last waking moment that he's just not quite able to remember, is… gone. Just, gone.

The edges of his eyes burn. He rubs at them, and they burn even harsher. Something is choking him, but he’s alone in the room. He’s alone.

He grabs the table’s edge and maneuvers himself out of the chair, getting his bearings before carefully placing his foot ahead of the other. Walking gets easier the more steps he takes, and by the time he gets to the window he feels more stable than he has since before waking up that first time. Kakashi places his hands on the sill, mindless of the chipping white paint that litters it, and lifts himself up to peer outside.

Kakashi’s childhood apartment overlooks a graveyard. He tilts his head as he surveys the neat, orderly lines of headstones and family shrines. He sniffles a bit, and rubs at his nose, and then shakes his head so roughly it pulsates in protest. He doesn’t remember this, but then again, he'd never been one for taking in the scenery when there was training to be done, last he was nine.

It’s an older cemetery, less crowded and smaller than the more frequently visited one off the main road. The graves are spaced out and well-maintained, from what little Kakashi can discern at this distance. The field is dotted with far-away pinpricks of color, flowers nestled close to the stones. Other than that, it looks deserted. There’s a tall wall of red stone that circles the field, topped with an occasional clay pot, that were probably full of flowers themselves.

Oh, Kakashi thinks, rubbing at his shoulder with clawed fingers. His eyes are drawn to the left of the field, to the newer headstones. To the looming shrines that denote clan heads and elders, and the like, shining obelisks that sit darkly under the sheerly clouded morning sun. This yard is where his father is buried.

No wonder he doesn’t remember seeing it through his window before. His past self had probably gone to great lengths to avoid looking out at it, and being reminded.

Something sharp tugs in his gut. Kakashi stumbles back from the window sill and finds himself leaning against the wall of the entryway. The world spins dizzyingly for a moment, and he blinks as a cold wind begins to buffet him in the face. Goosebumps rise up on his bare arms, and he glances around. He’s standing out on the street in a T-shirt, without shoes, and Kakashi isn’t quite certain how he had come all the way down here from his third floor apartment without noticing. That’s something that should probably be a bit worrying, perhaps. Actually, it is worrying, very much so, but as of this moment Kakashi can’t quite dredge up the motivation to feel upset over it.

Later, perhaps, he thinks absently as he turns his body to face the direction of the cemetery. He has a lot of things to say to a certain someone, right now, and they’re all bouncing around aimlessly inside his head, off the corners and colliding with each other, some fast, others slow, and all in all, Kakashi is unable to make heads or tails of them. The one thing he does know is that they can’t stay locked inside there. They've just gotta be spoken. Its a familiar feeling, one he's had before, all throughout his entire life since he was twelve.

He places a foot in front of the other, and walks.

 

There’s somebody else in the graveyard, and Kakashi is a second away from feeling perturbed about this before he realizes that it is sort of a public place, and other people are allowed inside here to visit the dead, not just him. It isn’t Kakashi’s graveyard, he doesn’t own it, and if he did, well, that would be a little sad, wouldn’t it? That isn't to say that people who do happen to own cemeteries are sad, just that if Kakashi were to own one, it... it would be. It'd be sad. That's all he can think.

The figure is blurring together with the tree that sits just behind them, and it takes a while for Kakashi’s eyes to adjust to the difference of not being in motion, because he’s stopped by the wall, under the shade of an entirely different tree. By the time his vision corrects itself, the person has been joined by another person, taller and yet hunched over, and Kakashi instantly recognizes them both. Somewhere in his chest there’s a sharp, niggling discomfort that slides to the back of his torso and climbs up his spine like the cold fingers of a half rotted corpse, and he feels uneasy as he watches Danzō place a comforting, fatherly hand on the hunched shoulder of Orochimaru.

It’s the clearest feelings he’s experienced since coming to the past—something in Kakashi’s head wails hysterically at the thought—and he clings to it for lack of anything better to do.

He thinks back on what he knows, trying to make sense of what he’s seeing. The only reason he can come up with to explain Orochimaru’s presence in the graveyard—discarding the more, uh, illegal reasons, and Kakashi isn’t sure whether this Orochimaru is quite that far gone yet—is that the Sannin is visiting the graves. What else would someone come to a graveyard for, other than ohaka mairi?

Kakashi stands there for a moment or two, watching Danzō converse in low tones with a silent and still Orochimaru, and it takes him longer than he feels it should to realize that the only graves Orochimaru would be visiting at this point in time are those of the his own parents.

An ugly, foul taste climbs up his throat. He swallows it down, and moves on the next thought. It’s just as pleasant.

The only explanation for the esteemed elder’s presence in the cemetery is that he’s here specifically to speak to Orochimaru. About what? What is so vital that Danzō couldn’t wait for Orochimaru to finish his grave visit before approaching him? It obviously isn’t an emergency, or the old warmonger wouldn’t be wasting time with pleasantries. Kakashi knows Danzō isn’t one for most societal norms in the least, but even he should know its an unspoken rule amongst shinobi or even civilians to leave each other be during such moments of vulnerability and grief.

Oh, Kakashi thinks, and steps forward out of the shade of the tree.

His back is straight and his head is clear for the very first time in what feels like actual days. He glances down at his feet, makes sure his footing is stable, and hurries over to the duo with as much aplomb as he can muster.

Danzō is at the cemetery, speaking to Orochimaru over the graves of his parents because the sannin is vulnerable here, right now, where he wouldn’t be anywhere else.

Two pairs of sharp eyes strike him almost like blows from a kunai as he reaches them, panting from exertion. It feels like he’s just run a mile, when he’s barely covered two hundred meters. Inwardly, Kakashi is a little mortified.

Still, he raises his head high after a quick bow, in which he is terrified he might actually fall over and greatly relieved that he does not, and focuses his gaze somewhere on Danzo’s shoulder. The left one. It is preferable, even if the moment in time his right is disfigured into a crime against everything sacred has yet to come to pass.

“Danzō-sama,” he says in the voice of giving the Hokage a mission report, straight to the point without room for anything less serious. His efforts earn him a raised eyebrow. “Hokage-sama requests your presence.”

“Is that so,” the slimy, underhanded war-lover says almost indifferently as he looks down his nose at Kakashi. “And why would he send a newly minted Genin to inform me of this, instead of, say, one of the ANBU that constantly sit around him at all times?”

If Kakashi could focus on anything other than a) his urgent desire to just go back to bed, and b) the goal of this current conversation, he might feel offended. Danzō isn’t nearly out of any loop at all, he would know that Kakashi, even at this age, was already a chunin, and the Hokage wouldn’t send any of his elite guard on something as D-rank as an in village courier mission.

If Kakashi could focus on anything else, he’d scoff. Inwardly. So Danzō couldn’t hear and send a ROOT agent after twelve year old Kakashi for being a brat. Kakashi wouldn’t put it past the man.

He barely catches the scornful sneer that Orochimaru sends the councilman's way when he isn't looking. Kakashi feels a spark of smugness erupt in his chest. He sketches another bow, and then vows vehemently not to do so again as he straightens up sporting a brand new level of headache.

“Danzō-sama,” he says again. “He said only that he would like you promptly, and your location. I know nothing else.”

“Of course you don’t,” the bastard, who probably has herpes or something equally as gross, sneers at him. He turns back to the Sannin, who has remained silent.

Kakashi eyes him as well. Orochimaru hasn’t moved away from the headstones that he stands over almost protectively. His head is bent slightly to look at them, and he hasn’t said a word.

“We will conclude this conversation at a later date, I suppose,” Danzō sighs like it’s some great big inconvenience, to be called on by the Hokage. The wrinkled old militarist folds his arms into the sweeping sleeves of his robe and steps away. “It was pleasant to see you again, Orochimaru-kun.”

Kakashi barely withholds a shudder at the overly-familiar address. Orochimaru says nothing. Danzō’s eyes narrow as he takes his leave.

It leaves the two of them, the Sannin and Kakashi, alone in the cemetery. Kakashi must admit, he hadn’t quite thought this far ahead when he’d approached initially, and now he hasn’t a clue what to do after achieving what he’d come over for.

He lets his posture go, bone-deep weariness creeping up on him now that the adrenaline is seeping away—which, what? No? Come back?— and he slumps against the trunk of the tree that sits a snug five feet away from where the snake sage currently stands. His head swims viciously. Probably has fish in it by now.

Kakashi’s ninja-brain screams at him to stop, but he’s tired, and miserable, and he’d just lied to Danzō, for Orochimaru , so he closes his eyes and lets his head fall against the chilled, knobbly bark.

Chapter Text

When he opens his eyes a few moments later—though with how things have been going it may have been minutes or even an hour, Kakashi doesn’t quite trust his sense of time right now—he meets gold.

He immediately tries to lean away, but it seems he’s already self-sabotaged that option, as the tree he’s leaning on is, by the rules of this land, obviously still there. Orochimaru’s face is uncomfortable close to his own, though, closer than Kakashi’s allowed the snake sannin to ever be in regards to himself. If this were the future, around the time of the botched Chunin Exams perhaps, Kakashi would be dead right now.

Which makes it curious, to find that he’s still breathing, though Kakashi’s rational mind tells him that the times are different. This Orochimaru is still loyal to the village—whatever that means to Orochimaru, the nin still can’t very well harm Kakashi without retribution.

“You lied to him,” the sannin breaths, and Kakashi prays to whatever god that will listen that the burning curiosity he can see in Orochimaru’s eyes is just his imagination. “Why?”

Kakashi crosses his arms over his chest, going for a indifferent air, but he only succeeds in hugging himself. Orochimaru backs off a step, and Kakashi blinks.

He intends to give an excuse, something about how ohaka mairi shouldn’t be interrupted, and Kakashi was just being polite in the way that Danzō hadn’t been, but what comes out is, “You’re like me.”

It makes both of them blink, and for a moment neither of them speak, because for all that they are geniuses, encountering confusion somewhere they didn’t expect to throws them both for a loop.

Orochimaru overcomes the awkward pause quickly though, quicker than Kakashi, because while he’s still trying to gather his thoughts and figure out what the fuck , the sannin is already putting forth another inquiry.

“What makes you think that we share any similarities?” Orochimaru asks, and if the words are backed by a quality not unlike a sneer, well—Kakashi isn’t sure if Orochimaru actually means for it to be there.

It feels like both of them have been caught slightly off guard.

The question posed, however, makes Kakashi stop and think. He considers the spot in time that he’s in, what was currently happening in the village at this time, what had been happening in the village, the general behavior of the villagers, and ultimately what type of person Orochimaru was.

Despite his instinctual reaction to deny that he and Orochimaru had anything in common at all, the fact of the matter was that the two of them aren't actually all that different from each other. Both Kakashi and Orochimaru were highly intelligent from a young age, the bona fide Konoha-produced genii. Both have grown up in general isolation, during war time, and don’t quite know how to function in times of peace.

Both, Kakashi realized, have at one point or another, been shunned for who they were, for simply existing where other people determined that they should not.

Kakashi looks up at Orochimaru and, after a moment of contemplation, where it’s more him trying to struggle past all the cotton filling his head than actually thinking, says, “The eyes follow you around the village, too.”

It wasn’t because either of them were famous. Though, in Orochimaru’s case, that may be a part of it. Except, his reputation inspires fear, not admiration. Kind of like Naruto as a child.

And, great, now he's drawing parallels between the snake sannin and his student. A quick picture of a chibi Orochimaru with spiky blond hair flashes before his eyes, and he can practically feel the fight drain out of him in horror. Kakashi goes lax against the tree and brings up a hand to rub wearily at his eye. Something keeps trying to wrestle up his throat. He almost longs for the porcelain throne again, but valiantly shoves aside the flickering thought.

“Of course they do,” Orochimaru actually does scoff this time, but Kakashi thinks it’s a bit telling that the older nin hasn’t just up and left already. The graveyard or the village. He sounds bitter. Something like sympathy tugs at Kakashi’s gut. “I’m not exactly an unknown ninja.”

“They’re not friendly, though,” Kakashi points out quietly.

Orochimaru’s eyes sharpen, pinning him like shuriken.

“They aren’t kind, because they don’t like what you represent.” Kakashi continues. He tilts his head back and stares up at the higher branches of the tree they’re under. “...Or me.”

He pushes off the trunk, placing feet carefully in front of each other, and makes his way across the cemetery. The grave he’s looking for isn’t actually that far from where Orochimaru’s parents lie buried, and something inside Kakashi finds a sick sort of irony at that. He doesn’t have to glance behind him to know the sannin is silently at his heels. Like a hound following a scent, tracking, doggedly. Ha.

Kakashi comes to a stop in front of his father’s grave. Staring at it now, kanji he hasn’t looked at in far too long, set into stone that’s an entirely different color than the monument he’s spent too large a chunk of his life wasting away in front of, pondering regrets and, later, betrayal.

His father’s name should have been on the memorial stone, Kakashi understands that now. To stand here before the man’s gravesite, knowing that it isn't, and that there is not a single person in this village who would support it being counted among those who have given their lives for them—Kakashi feels sick all over again.

He reaches out and touches the stone. “They judge us, because they think they have the right to.”

He tells this to the man standing directly behind him. Orochimaru doesn’t move to reply, and Kakashi isn’t sure why, but he feels like he can trust the nin not to try anything here. Unlike Danzō, Orochimaru understands the respect that a grave visit demands. For all of a grave visit that this is. Kakashi hasn't even brought any food to offer. He's not even wearing shoes. He's practically in his pajamas.

Something that feels like hysteria claws at his chest, and for a brief, sharp moment, the longing Kakashi has for his father to be here with him now, alive, has never been starker.

“They assume that what they think matters,” Kakashi murmurs, feeling almost lost in thought and painfully in the moment all at once. His mouth is moving and forming these words all on its own. He lets it. “So they hold it over our heads, and teach everyone else to as well. And, somehow, they never understand that it’s their own faults, too. That we’re like this because of them.”

The world spins dizzily around him. Something tugs sharply on the collar of his shirt, and once he blinks, he finds himself dangling from Orochimaru’s grasp, swinging haphazardly over the ground.

The sannin pulls him up and sets him back on his feet without a word. Kakashi wobbles for a moment, and then gives it up as a bad job, maneuvering himself down onto the ground. It’s cold. There is a light coating of frost on the ground. He glances up at the sky, trying to find the glimmer of the sun’s position, but everything’s overcast with a thick layer of clouds that makes the entire sky a blindingly white blanket of light. He immediately squeezes his eyes shut and brings his hands up to cover them, turning his face down toward his lap. Is it actually in the morning? Kakashi feels like he’s been up for days already.

“He’d still be here,” he mumbles into his palms, “If it wasn’t for them. If it wasn't for them, he'd be alive." And if he sounds a little accusing, a little hurt, a little angry at the world and how cruel it can be to the ones who are only trying to protect it—well, Orochimaru doesn’t comment on it. "But he's not. And now we’re both alone.”

A cold, chilling hand presses against his forehead where his forehead protector would normally sit—he hasn’t seen it at all since waking up in this time, Kakashi realizes with a jolt—and pulls away after a moment.

“You’re practically boiling in your own skin,” Orochimaru diagnoses, and sounds almost impressed.

“But I’m cold,” Kakashi states confusedly. He tugs on the flimsy t-shirt he’d worn out, and turns an accusing stare on his bare feet, as if it were their fault that Kakashi hadn’t seen fit to clothe them properly before leaving the apartment.

A whispering chuckle sounds from above him, and he glances up with increasingly unreliable vision to see the sannin standing over him, looking amused.

“Where is it that you lived, again?” Orochimaru asks him, like he’d known the location before but had forgotten. It’s a bit alarming, something far off in the distance of his mind notes.

Kakashi’s eyes roll up into the back of his head.

Perhaps he’d overestimated himself.

 

 

“Where’s the sugar?” The snake sannin’s voice calls from the doorway into the kitchen of his childhood apartment. Kakashi struggles to sit up from the soft, tempting, siren call of the couch cushions to peer over at him. The androgynous nin stands between the two rooms, leaning a shoulder against the door trim. His arms are crossed across his chest, one eyebrow raised.

Kakashi squints his eyes, trying to recall the usual state of the cupboards of a Kakashi around this age, and decides, “I don’t think there is any.”

The look Orochimaru gives him would say ‘are you insane?’ on anybody else’s face, but on Orochimaru it just comes across as a sharp ‘I can’t believe I’m in the presence of such a complete simpleton,’ and it makes Kakashi feel like he’s just failed some sort of preliminary test that was supposed to be intentionally easy.

He flops back on the couch and stares up at the ceiling. With a thoughtful hum, he adds, “I don’t think I have much of anything, actually.”

“Why not?”

He closes his eyes and tries to shrug, but his shoulders don’t move much beyond a slight muscle twitch that is actually quite painful. He winces.

“Um,” he thinks aloud, “grocery shopping, either too difficult or just not taken care of because I’m busy training, because I can’t fall behind. Probably the later. Not sure.”

He can’t fall behind. Being a shinobi isn’t just his chosen career, doesn’t just run in the family, isn’t just his way of life. He’s lived all this before, and the end game went to hell in a hand-basket, because for all that he’d trained his ass off as a child, the older, adult Kakashi had let his skills rust in the time of peace. Stupidly, he’d settled with his level and had ceased looking for higher challenges, stopped trying to improve out of the mistaken assumption he was already good enough to take on whatever threats might come at him, a jounin of Konohagakure. Or that, wherever he did fail, he would have teammates there to cover his back for him. That’s why he’d been so caught of guard. That’s why he’d lost so much when he hadn’t expected to even be capable of losing anything else in the face of what had all already been taken from him.

Not this time. This time, he’s ahead of the curve, and he’ll stay ahead. He refuses to allow himself to fall behind a second time.

There’s a huff, and Orochimaru disappears back into the kitchen. At the foot of the couch, Pakkun sniffs contemptuously.

“He smells,” the pug mutters under his breath.

Kakashi lets his leg slide off the cushion, foot coming down on top of the ninken’s head. There’s a yelp, and Pakkun jerks upright to glare balefully at him. Kakashi gives him a cheery smile.

“What was that for?” Pakkun hisses.

“Don’t remember you being this rude,” Kakashi yawns, curling in on one of the admittedly threadbare throw pillows. He presses his face into the rough fabric, inhaling a musky scent born of dust. “He smells fine.”

“He smells like reptile .”

“And I smell like dog,” Kakashi mumbles, remembering Naruto’s wrinkled nose making the whisker marks curl inward as his entire face scrunched up. His gut clenches, his throat feels oddly slick, slimy. His eyes sting. Kakashi sniffs.

Pakkun goes silent. The couch cushions dips in slightly as the pug hops up next to him. A paw places itself on Kakashi’s leg as Pakkun stretches out his neck and sniffs at him.

“You smell sad ,” the ninken corrects, sotto voce.

Kakashi rolls on to his back, gazing down at the dog through half-lidded eyes. He fights off a yawn that cracks at his jaw, and feels his ears twitch at the soft clinking sounds coming from the kitchen as Orochimaru works the teapot in silence.

He yanks up an arm and sets it over his eyes. His head still pounds horribly, and everything in him feels too exhausted to work properly, yet was still working despite all of this. Kakashi feels stretched out, and over-used, and old , and—

“Yeah,” he breaths. He’s sad. Who wouldn’t be?

Even inside his head it sounds like an excuse.

Chapter Text

There is just something about this, sitting on the couch and watching such a notorious, duplicitous individual as Orochimaru putter around the small kitchen of a seven year old chunin’s shoddy apartment, fixing tea and putting together sandwiches composed of stale bread and the absolute dredges of a nearly out of date peanut butter jar, that is inherently wrong.

Or, maybe not wrong, just… incredibly jarring. Watching the snake sannin himself being downright domestic throws a great big wrench into the cogs of his image in the eyes of literally everyone else in the entire world (except, perhaps, the other sannin and his sensei). It’s just, odd, to watch a man that Kakashi has personally seen tear out the throats of grown, infamous ninja with his tongue, hum near silently to himself as he measures out the correct amount of loose leaf tea into a strainer. Where he’d found the leaf tin, Kakashi has absolutely no idea. He’d been pretty sure the kid-him of the past hadn’t the mind to buy anything other than tea bags or the instant stuff.  

Pakkun still sits, hunched, on his legs, as if he thinks it’s his sworn duty to make sure Kakashi doesn’t leave the confines of the couch cushions. Maybe it is, too. Hadn’t he’d promised Minato-sensei that he’d keep an eye on Kakashi while he was sick? And then Kakashi had wandered off to a cemetery all on his lonesome, wearing nothing but shorts and a t-shirt, and had brought back one of the villages most controversial and widely feared warriors like he was just another stray puppy.

Maybe Pakkun has the right to be concerned. Kakashi certainly is. Why was Orochimaru in his apartment, again?

He eyes the man’s back through the spotless entry to the kitchen, stares at the yards of inky black hair that tumbles over his shoulders and sways when the man moves, and then purposefully closes his eyes and plops back down on the cushions. He heaves out a great big sigh that makes his throat, shredded as it is, sting viciously, and ponders his own actions.

Orochimaru and Kakashi are alike, in the way that Kakashi and Naruto— not Sasuke, Kakashi has made a lot of mistakes and that boy, maybe his entire team, was one of them—are alike. They’re three peas in a pod, them, and Kakashi really has no idea why he’s never seen the parallels before now.

There had just been something , about the line of Orochimaru’s shoulders, the angle of his head, the direction of his avoiding gaze, and the firm declination of even gracing Danzōu with a verbal response in that graveyard, that had just struck Kakashi as so achingly familiar . He’s seen that very pose in the mirror. He’s seen it in his students, not just Naruto, but all three of them at one point or another.

This person is like me , a small voice in the back of his head, that sounded so much like a mashup of Naruto and his own younger self, had spoken with an odd sort of wonder.

Maybe that’s why, Kakashi thinks.

He’s distracted by a commotion in the kitchen. There’s a surprised yelp and a crash of pots that is definitely not Orochimaru, and a short, curt hmph that definitely is.

Kakashi sits back up and peers over the back of the couch once more, to watch as his blonde-haired sensei staggers bodily out of the kitchen entry, stumbling over to him with a crazed, startled look on his face, and blue eyes that keep darting to the kitchen and back.

Kakashi shares a glance with a very unimpressed looking Pakkun, and wrestles himself up to his knees as Minato practically throws himself over to grab the back of the couch like it’s a lifeline. Their eyes meet, and they stare at one another for a few long moments, before the older ninja himself breaks the gaze and runs an aggrieved hand through his hair.

“Kakashi,” Minato begins in a low voice. It sounds kind of stressed, to Kakashi’s ears, despite how Minato-sensei is clearly attempting to keep it calm and level. “Why is Orochimaru in your apartment?”

Kakashi eyes him warily. “He’s making lunch.”

A strange look crosses Minato’s face, something that looks like it’s trying to be a patient smile, but is too busy fighting against a panicked grimace to look even a little bit natural.

Why is he making lunch, in your apartment?”

The twelve year old stares at his sensei for a long moment, eyes narrowed, and then nods slowly, realizing, ah. Minato was really asking why Orochimaru seemed to feel like he can come to Kakashi’s apartment in the first place.

“He’s friend-shaped,” Kakashi tells his teacher, expression blank, and Minato chokes on air.

Pakkun rolls his eyes, and hops up to perch on the back of the couch. Kakashi really appreciates the pug’s easy-going, no-nonsense nature. It’s a gift from the kami themselves, at times like these.

“Little Boss,” The pug starts, and Kakashi has to work really hard to hide the flinch that tries to wrack his body at the nickname, “went on a quick field trip while I was busy running a bath for him. He was gone for about half an hour.”

And ?” Minato looks about ten seconds away from tearing out his hair.

“Snake-boy over there-“ Pakkun nods toward the kitchen, and then bites back a yelp when Kakashi instinctively reaches out to box the small ninken over the ears.

“Wh-“ his sensei looks startled at the violence, but Kakashi is too busy giving his doggy partner a stern look full of narrow eyes and unfortunately pouting lips to see him.

Pakkun glowers back at him. After a few seconds, the dog huffs out an exasperated sigh and turning back to the befuddled Minato. “The esteemed Sannin of Snakes carried Kakashi here back after he reportedly fainted while standing, the idiot.”

“Hmm,” Kakashi hums ponderously, before relenting. Better, but still rude. His dogs of this time are so bereft of manners. His dad had spoiled them.

Minato’s eyes widen, and he starts casting suspicious glances over at the kitchen, which is strangely a lot more silent than it was before. The blonde leans in closer, so that his and Kakashi’s heads are right next to each other.

“Did he do anything?” Minato whispers worriedly.

Kakashi pulls back to give his sensei a long, wordless stare.

The blonde man looks so earnest . It tugs on something in his chest, even as Kakashi is feeling a cold sort of tingle at the edges of his lungs at the sudden realization he’s having.

“What?”

“I mean, did he,” Minato lowers his voice even further, edging in closer like he thinks this way Orochimaru wouldn’t hear him. Was… his sensei actually kind of an idiot? “Did he, do… something?”

“What are you talking about?” Kakashi looks at the man like he thinks he’s crazy, which… well? Aren’t they all?

A burst of breath escapes Minato, and the man hesitated for a second, before throwing himself over the back of the couch, to sit next to Kakashi. He reaches out to hook an arm around the boy and drags him down so that he’s practically in his lap.

“Sensei?!”

“He didn’t do anything to you, did he?” And now that he’s actually looking up at him, Kakashi can see the veritable storm clouds eclipsing Minato’s cerulean eyes, how they are narrow and sharp and keep glancing over at the kitchen like it’s the mouth of some nefarious monster's cave, and then back at Kakashi, to rove over the small Hatake’s body like he’s looking for any signs of mishandling.

Kakashi frowns. He places both hands on the man’s chest and pushes him away a little bit so he has room to breath.

“No,” he says shortly. “I was visi- I pushed myself too hard. I got dizzy and passed out, and Orochimaru-san was kind enough to take me home.”

Faintly, he can remember Orochimaru’s question of where his apartment was located, and silently wonders that, if the nin actually hadn’t known, then how had he gotten Kakashi home anyway?

A question for another day. Minato-sensei is still leering suspiciously at the quiet kitchen.

Kakashi pauses for a moment, unsure. After a moment, though, he figures to hell with it. Best to just treat Minato like another Pakkun.

He reaches out and lightly swats Minato’s shoulder. The man startles, again—he startles very easily, doesn’t he, Kakashi will have to work on that—and turns to give the boy a questioning look.

“You,” Kakashi says quietly, “believe the villagers?”

Minato blinks at him. “Sorry?”

“...Have you ever actually spoken to him?”

“Of course I have! Kakashi, I’ve been on the other side of the debate table in strategy meetings against him more times than I can cou-“

“Okay,” says Kakashi, impatient, “but have you ever actually talked to him? To him ? Outside of… work?”

Minato stares at him.

Huh, Kakashi thinks, and he’s not liking the ideas his brain is showing him at all.

“How did you get inside?” He asks, mind running wild with all the new revelations he’s reading in the undertones of the latest events of his life. “I didn’t see you come in the door…”

He pauses, and then casts a glance at Pakkun. The pug stares at him, before giving a huff and a short shake of his head. So Minato hadn’t come in while Kakashi was too busy being unconscious to notice.

He really needs to figure out how to get around that. It’s starting to get a little ridiculous, and him fainting everywhere isn’t going to help his case one bit.

“I, uh,” Minato coughs, hand reaching up to rub at the back of his head. Sheepish. “I came in through the window.”

Kakashi stares. “The window?”

“The one in the, ah, the kitchen…”

From the sound of it, his teacher had launched himself up two stories and broke into Kakashi’s apartment instead of, say, using the front door like a normal person would have, and had promptly found Orochimaru the Snake Sannin humming and making tea there, instead of his youngest and brightest, and currently sickest, student like he’d no doubt been expecting.

Kakashi can understand why Minato was so startled, but… that didn’t explain why Minato was being so Ignorant Villager Type 3 on them right now.

The silver-haired boy narrows his eyes, and Minato ducks his head under the gaze.

“Tomorrow,” a calm voice speaks from behind them, all velvet tones and lilting vowels, “someone is going to restock these cabinets.”

Minato jumps, arms tightening around Kakashi a bit too harshly, and he looks a breath away from screaming like a schoolgirl. Kakashi levels the blonde a look, before twisting around in his grip and looking up at Orochimaru, who stands there, cool as a cucumber, holding a plate of sandwiches in one hand and a cup of tea in the other. He gazes down at them with an expression that gives nothing away about what’s going on inside his head, and raises an eyebrow at the intense stare Minato is subjecting him to.

“I swear I saw cobwebs in one when I opened it,” he continues, like he hadn’t just scared the bajeebus out of Kakashi’s high-strung sensei.

After a moment of silence—which Orochimaru takes advantage of to make his way around the couch, like a blessedly normal person, unlike Minato, and set the plate on the coffee table—Kakashi struggles his way free of the death trap that is Minato-sensei’s arms, and perches instead on the edge of the next cushion over.

Orochimaru hands him the cup of tea. Kakashi accepts it wordlessly, bringing it close to his chest after his hands register how warm the ceramic is against his chilled skin. He glances down into its jewel-tone depths, and gets a whiff of cinnamon with a faint hint of citrus. Definitely not something the young Kakashi of before would have in his too-sparse cupboards. Kakashi wonders why Orochimaru carries a tin of such high-grade tea around with him, and carefully takes a sip.

He swishes it around in his mouth for a bit, ignoring the staring contest the two older men had going on right over his head, and can’t help the widening of his eyes.

Oh, Kakashi hums, and takes another, bigger sip. This tea is fantastic .

That’s it. He’s decided. Orochimaru stays.



Minato wrings the hem of his coat in his fists. It causes his knuckles to bleach white, and when he realizes this he attempts to loosen the grip he has on the cloth, and when that doesn’t work he draws his attention in to focus on his breathing.

In, and out. Slowly. In, and out. Two, four, eight, sixteen, thirty-two, sixty-four…

He opens his eyes after a few moments, pressing out a deep exhale, and finds that his gaze is still locked on the nin who sits across the coffee table from him. One leg is crossed over the other, spine straight against the back of the wooden chair he’d dragged in from the small kitchen table, a cup of tea with a faint and subtle scent set in pale, artist hands.

Orochimaru brings the mug to his lips and draws in a mouthful, eyes locked on Minato’s, one eyebrow still raised.

Something in Minato’s chest tightens. The Sannin looks smug, somehow, and it’s playing on his nerves.

He bounces his leg a few times, up and down, before giving up and turning to his student, who lately is causing Minato a lot more stress than he feels he rightly deserves. Kakashi’s entire focus seems to be locked on his cup of tea, as it has been for the good few minutes since it had been handed to him. He sips at it occasionally with obvious relish, and gray eyes study the orange-maroon surface of the water with great interest.

Minato cut his gaze back to Orochimaru, who just smiles pleasantly at him, as if he for all the world belongs there, in that chair, in this apartment, and it i Minato who was the interloper.

“So,” He begins. And stalls. What… exactly is he suppose to say, here?

Orochimaru takes another drink, and smiles that smile again, teeth sharper than they have any right to be in the mouth of a human. “Indeed.”

After a few seconds tick by, in which the Snake Sannin remains unforgivably unruffled, whereas Minato is still fishing for words in a manmade pond bereft of any apparent actual life, the nin leans forward to peer unerringly at the still-silent chunin sitting next to him.

He clears his throat with a polite air, and smiles again when Kakashi’s gaze snaps to his. “It is good that you like the tea. However,” he reaches out and slides the plate of sandwiches across the table with a single finger, “I believe that some food will do you better, right now.”

Kakashi blinks at him, and brings a hand to his sternum when his stomach rumbles on cue. He looks startled. It makes Minato feel uneasy, because Kakashi isn’t ever one to let emotions show so blatantly on his face.

His student gives another quiet hum, that doesn’t sound quite like an agreement or not, and reaches forward to pick up one of the sandwiches. He then sits back against the couch cushions, tea mug cradles against his chest with one hand, and nibbles sparingly on the wedge. His eyes are staring at something in the middle of the distance, as if he’s already forgotten they are there.

Minato thinks back to that morning, when he’d nearly burned down the building to make soup that he already knew he hadn’t the ability to put together, and cringes internally. Has Kakashi eaten at all, since before Minato had found him lying prone on his bathroom floor two days ago?

Minato feels like the worst sensei on the face of the planet, that all it had taken was an eerily calm smile from Orochimaru to get Kakashi to intake the nutrition he so obviously needs.

You’ve never even spoken to him outside of duty , a voice says inside his head. It sounds both disappointed, incredulous, and sort of like Kakashi.

Something in Minato’s heart sinks.

He clears his throat, and sits up to now his head down in a show of respect.

“Thank you,” He says, and is faintly surprised at himself when it comes out completely sincere.

“For bringing him home,” he adds on, straightening up to find another shock, when he catches the stunned flash that gleams across slightly widened gold eyes. Orochimaru’s face quickly returns to its usual neutral expression, leaving Minato to wonder if he’d actually seen what he’d seen, but deep inside he knows that it had been there.

“I should have been here to take care of him,” he says, quietly, to himself, and feels like shit all over again. He isn’t just Kakashi’s sensei, he is his guardian. For all that Kakashi is, technically, of legal age due to his military rank, he’s still just a kid. Still just seven years old. And Minato had left him with only a ninken for company for hours , while suffering the throes of an illness that really and truly begged the attention of a doctor.

His elbows find purchase on his knees, and Minato leans his face heavily into his hands, palms digging into the sockets of his eyes. He feels so exhausted, all of a sudden. He wishes Kushina were here. She would know exactly what to do.

“You’re quite welcome,” a level voice returns at last, nearly as quietly as Minato’s last comment.

He glances up to meet that gold gaze, and finds himself sighing.

He doesn’t trust Orochimaru. For all that he’s Jiraiya’s precious teammate, Minato of all people knows just how conflicted Orochimaru’s very existence makes his sensei. They’d grown up together as children, and as adults they’d grown apart . Jiraiya knows Orochimaru, but it’s been such a long time since they’d even seen one another, that Minato thinks his sensei’s view of the man may just be slightly out of date.

After all, Orochimaru has had plenty of time to himself. First, it had been Tsunade, and then Jiraiya. Or maybe Jiraiya has been first, and this was just the second and more final time. In any case, they both had left, and Minato still finds it morbidly funny how Orochimaru is still the only one of the legendary sages to actually stay in the village, despite everything . No matter what, Orochimaru has had their backs, not only in the war but outside of it, just like any loyal ninja should.

Minato thinks that this should be reason enough to, perhaps not trust Orochimaru, but trust that he wouldn’t turn on them in the middle of a mission. He’d proven himself, time and time again, even when he shouldn’t have had too.

And still, Minato is suspicious of Orochimaru, and sometimes he hates himself for it. He hates that Jiraiya has instilled a sense of constant vigilance where his errant teammate is concerned. Minato can’t help but keep an eye out for the Snake Sannin. Watch him from afar. Make notes of what he’s been doing. Pick him out of a crowd, which isn’t exactly difficult as the crowd itself avoids his very presence without even meaning to, and stare .

Minato looks to his side, at his student, who is still completely transfixed by the mug he cradled to his chest. There’s barely three of the tiniest bites he’d ever seen taken out of the sandwich in the boy’s hand. He remembers Kakashi, sitting at the kitchen table, with gray eyes darker than Minato had ever seen them, staring almost sightlessly at the calendar stuck on the fridge with the magnet Rin had asked Minato to pass along because she’d been too shy to gift it herself.

‘You believe the villagers?’

Kakashi sounded so accusing when he’d asked that. There had been this look on his face that spoke of quiet disbelief. Like he was disappointed that his own sensei was just another civilian villager who glared at what they couldn’t understand, or didn’t want to understand.

Except, Minato does understand it. Even if he wishes that there was nothing to understand. Because it isn’t fair, and Minato hates watching his student walk through the village like he isn’t a part of it.

He looks up, and finds Orochimaru enjoying his tea and looking as if he hadn’t a care in the entire world. But there’s something in the line of his shoulders, the too-relaxed way he holds himself up in that wooden chair, which belies that.

Minato lets go of his coat, smooths out the wrinkles and creases he’d caused, and sits back against the couch.

He casts Orochimaru a sunny smile, as if the three of them had planned to take tea together all along.

“I’m sorry,” he says, and means it. “I don’t believe we’ve had the pleasure of meeting outside of the war room or battlefield before.”

Orochimaru’s eyes snap up to meet his.

“...No,” the man replies curiously. “I don’t believe we have.”

Minato beams. “Well, I know we already knows each other’s names, but that’s no reason to let introductions slide in polite company.”

He leans forward and reaches a hand out across the coffee table. “I’m Namikaze Minato, Kakashi’s sensei. I’m glad to finally meet you.”

Orochimaru regards his offered hand with an unblinking gaze, and the quiet of the apartment stretches on for longer than comfortable. The muscles in Minato’s arm begin to tire as the seconds tick by, but he refuses to lower it.

After a moment, Orochimaru glances up to meet his eyes, and smiles that pleasant, close-lipped smile once again. He reaches out to clasp Minato’s hand, and the two of them them shake over the plate of sandwiches that sits between them.

“Orochimaru,” the nin demurres. Ebony hair slides off a shoulder as he leans forward. “I’m delighted to make your acquaintance.”

Minato swears he can hear his sensei hollering across the elemental nations at him.

Beside him, Kakashi brings his mug up and sips at the tea straight through his mask.

Chapter Text

Despite what he’d said to Minato-sensei, Kakashi doesn’t have a clue what Orochimaru is doing in his apartment.

The man isn’t there for long, of course, stating some excuse for leaving soon after the odd, almost ceremonial-like handshake he and Minato-sensei had shared over Kakashi’s coffee table—what had that been about, anyway? Kakashi hadn’t really been paying attention at the time, too distracted by the godlike aroma wafting up from his humble, mortal, ceramic mug, but he’s pretty sure something had gone down. He just isn’t sure what.

He doesn’t have a lot of time to ponder it, however, seeing as Pakkun sits on him practically the very second that Orochimaru takes his leave—through the front door , take notes, Minato-sensei!—and curls his lip upward in the facsimile of a snarl.

His voice doesn’t have a hint of a growl, though, so Kakashi knows he’s all bark and no bite.

“If I go now to refill the tub, you’ll stay put this time.” The pug grumbles. “ Right ?”

Kakashi stares at him, empty tea mug still clutched to his sternum. It still smells like cinnamon and citrus, and Kakashi’s going to cling to it until someone pries it out of his cold, dead fingers.

“Yeah,” he eventually sighs out, when Pakkun whuffs quietly for a response. “No more graveyard excursions,” Kakashi promises.

Minato gives a little jolt from where he’s been sitting next to them on the couch, staring sightlessly at the empty kitchen chair Orochimaru had left in the sitting room. The blond turns his head to cast a curious glance over Kakashi’s curled form. There’s an unreadable look in his eyes as he glances once toward the kitchen and then back at Kakashi, before meeting Pakkun’s gaze. Something passes between the ninken and the ninja, over Kakashi’s head, and Kakashi shifts beneath their gazes, not really liking that there’s an entire conversation going on in the room that he isn’t privy to. It’s his apartment, dammit.

He gives a yawn, and tips over onto his side to bury his face into the couch pillows, jostling Pakkun off his lap. The pug hops away from him, finding new purchase on the next cushion over.

“I’ll stay,” he mumbles into the couch. Maybe it sounds a little belligerent, maybe it doesn’t. He’s not admitting to anything.

There’s a shift of fabric as Minato stands up from the couch.

“I can get the bath going, if you’re really that worried, Pakkun,” the jounin-sensei says quietly.

“It looks like he’s gonna pass out again,” Pakkun says. “He probably won’t wander off….”

“I’m sensing a ‘but’?”

Pakkun gives a sigh, and noses the back of Kakashi’s head, pushing around a few of the wilder strands of silvery hair. “He’s hasn’t been particularly present this entire time, if you know what I mean. Sure, the kid says he won’t leave, but I’m not too sure he’s got the reigns of it right now.”

“What do you mean?” Minato-sensei sounds confused.

“When he woke up after Orochimaru brought him back, I practically had to interrogate him about why the guy was here before he actually seemed to remember what had happened, or the fact that he’d left the apartment in the first place.”

There’s a moment of silence while the two contemplated this information, and Kakashi squeezes his eyes shut so tightly that spots dance before his vision. He stretches his arms out in front of himself, stomach dragging against the cushion, until something in his back pops. His entire body aches like he’d just finished a particularly grueling training regime, except it had been for two days straight, of all the toughest exercises and with no sleep or rests. Kakashi is so done feeling under the weather. Time travel, death hallucination, whatever this is or not, he’d like to feel like a normal living human being again, please. He hadn’t even been that old before this started. Why did he feel like an old man? This body hasn’t even started puberty yet, for crying out loud!

Kakashi goes still.

A whine escapes his mouth, smothered into the pillow that his face is currently paying respects to. It smells like dust. He fights the urge to sneeze.

A hand comes to rest in his hair, giving it a gentle, soothing ruffle, fingers threading through the strands. Kakashi soaks in the comfort it brings like a dying man who won’t see such luxuries again in life. Because he’s going to die. He knows it.

Above him, Minato sighs. “I think I’ll stay here for the night. I can take the couch. I just… I don’t want to leave him alone, when he’s like this.”

He steps away from the couch and, quietly, repeats, “I’ll go draw up that bath for you, Pakkun.”

Kakashi listens to his soft footsteps leading him away from the room, down the hall to the bathroom that the man had found him collapsed in not too long ago—but, apparently it had been days since then?

The steps fade out. Kakashi then pops his head up from the pillow and finds himself staring at a silent Pakkun.

Pakkun regards him seriously. “How are you feeling?”

There’s a tone of voice that Kakashi recognizes. He’s heard it from the mouths of many a medic-nin, and he knows down to his gut that if he doesn’t answer promptly and with complete honesty, his life may as well be forfeit for all the good that his future might hold.

“Terrible,” he replies, and oops. Maybe a little too cheerfully, but oh well. “My head feels like it’s full of rocks that are all smashing into each other at shunshin speeds, and I’m pretty sure my body is on fire, but when I look down at it, it’s fine?”

Pakkun steps closer, pressing his nose right next to Kakashi’s temple, and gives a suspicious sniff. “Any sort of cold symptoms? Like sore throat? Sniffles?”

The man-become-boy gives Pakkun the deadest stare that he can manage, which, considering the circumstances, is more alike to a corpse than Pakkun is apparently comfortable with.

There’s a worried pinch between the dog’s brows when he nudges Kakashi’s cheek insistently. “ Well ?”

“No,” Kakashi huffs, and pushes the pug away from his face, perhaps a little too roughly, not that he means to. “Sometimes I feel too tired to move, even though I just woke up, and….” Kakashi thinks about his date with the toilet bowl when he first woke up, and shudders.

“And?”

“Stomach,” Kakashi grunts. “Not good.”

“Do you need me to grab the trash bin?” Pakkun asks in alarm.

“No,” at least, Kakashi doesn’t think so. Honestly, if he pukes now he’d feel a little guilty. Orochimaru didn’t have to make him those sandwiches, but he had, and it was strangely very nice of him to do so. Kakashi doesn’t want to throw that back in his face.

Really, it’d be rude. What if Orochimaru never gives him that amazing tea from heaven again, because Kakashi was rude to him? Kakashi decides he might just give up on life entirely. If he can’t have that tea again, what even is the point?

“Are you sure?”

“Yes,” Kakashi will make damn sure he doesn’t meet up with the toilet again anytime soon.

The two of them sit there for a while in silence. Kakashi feels his head dip forward a few times, and can’t quite keep his eyes open. He’s pretty sure he doesn’t actually fall unconscious, but… no, he isn’t sure, actually. He might have dozed off a few times for all he knows. The sitting room doesn’t have any windows, and he’s not in the right spot to see into the kitchen from the couch. He blinks once, and opens his eyes after, feeling groggy and terribly exhausted and so, so tired. Kakashi struggles away from the pillow he’s nearly become one with, pressing his stiff back into the couch cushions and releasing a pent up sigh that tastes like irritation. He runs his tongue over his teeth in annoyance, and cringes. His teeth feel like they’re covered in moss.

Minato peeks in on them from the hallway. “Tub’s ready for you,” He says when he notices Kakashi sitting up.

The boy blinks, and then edges himself off the couch and onto wobbly feet. Now that he’s thinking about it, he really could use a good wash. He kind of reeks. Orochimaru, with his sensitive snake senses, the poor man must’ve been suffering the entire time he was in Kakashi’s apartment.

Kakashi narrows his eyes on the floorboards in front of his socked feet—since when had he put socks on? Last he’d known, he’d been barefoot— and resolutely takes a step forward. Minato appears at his side to help him to the bathroom, because apparently Kakashi is crippled and can’t walk himself despite obviously doing it right before the blonde’s eyes not two seconds ago.

In any case, Kakashi finds himself beside the tub, wrestling with his shirt as he attempts to shuck off his clothing, and tries not to actually dive headfirst into the bathtub even though he kind of really wants to. It looks so inviting. It’s steaming. It smells clean. It feels like heat and he hasn’t even touched it yet.

The steam that curls up from the water clues Kakashi into the fact that, apparently, he is absolutely freezing. Despite that, not a moment ago, his body had felt like it was slowly and painfully burning into cinders. But, no. Now he is cold. Go figure.

He climbs in, and resolutely decides not to think about anything at all.

 

There’s a knock at the door about an hour and a half later, after Kakashi sinks under the welcoming depths of the water, and for a second his heart speeds up in panic and he’s taken back to the episode he’d experienced when he first woke up, how his body had tried to turn inside out and the door had talked—

No. “Kakashi?” It’s Minato-sensei. Not the door. Doors don’t talk.

Kakashi closes his eyes and pretends that they don’t sting just a little. Nobody has to know.

“Kakashi?”

“Mmf?”

“Are you alright? It’s been a while?”

Kakashi draws in a deep breath, sinking down in the tub. He soaks in the quickly escaping vestiges of heat still remaining in the lukewarm bath water, and sighs it back out, counting the second it takes until his lungs are empty again. He waits a moment, and draws in another breath that takes half as long.

“Kakashi?”

“I’m fine,” he calls.

“Well,” Minato begins, sounding like he’s worried but trying not to let it become too obvious, “are you all washed up? I think it’s about time you get out. You should probably get something to eat before you fall asleep again.”

“I just ate,” Kakashi states in confusion, dragging himself up to sit on the edge of the tub.

“That was a few hours ago,” his teacher tell him through the very inanimate door. “It’s about dinner time. Do you need any help?”

“I got it,” Kakashi says, a little too quickly and a little too sharply. He draws in another breath and presses it out as slowly as his lungs can stand. He feels lightheaded afterwards, but it eases something in the tight, complicated knots that plague his muscles.

Outside the bathroom, Minato hesitates, then wonders, “Are you sure?”

Kakashi isn’t. He doesn’t bother answering, though. He carefully pulls his legs up and over, setting wet, pruned feet on the bath rug. He hears Minato heave out a sigh, and listens to the man dither around at the door for a few more minutes.

“He’s back,” his teacher eventually says to him, when Kakashi’s finished toweling off and is attempting the arduous process of dressing himself in the sleepwear Minato-sensei laid out for him on the small sink counter. He’s having a little trouble finding the left armhole of the shirt, and feels increasingly pathetic for it. “He’s making dinner. He’s almost done.”

“... Who?” Kakashi asks, a little suspiciously, even though he already has a good idea of the answer.

“Orochimaru,” Minato says, helplessly bewildered but trying to hide the fact.

Kakashi stops wrestling with the shirt, and finds himself staring at his reflection in the squat little mirror that hangs above the sink. He looks… tiny, is a good word for it as any. His bangs are a tangled mess over his eyes, and are brushed toward the left a bit, and there’s a gauntness to his face that Kakashi doesn’t remember there being. His eyes look sort of glazed, and both of them are gray. He traces a line down over the right one, and then pets down the damp, plastered bangs to cover it. The sight of it makes him uneasy.

“What’s he making?” He eventually ventures, turning back to give his clothing an annoyed glare.

“Miso soup,” his teacher tells him promptly, like he’s been waiting for Kakashi to speak. He probably has. “You don’t need help?”

Kakashi puffs up his cheeks with another sigh that he tries his best to hold in. Some of it gets out anyway.

“No, I’ve got it,” he says, clenching the navy t-shirt in his hands. It’s creasing, making wrinkles, but he doesn’t care.

“Alright,” Minato doesn’t seem like he wants to leave, but his voice carries a tone of reluctant defeat. “I’ll be in the living room. Holler if you need anything.”

Kakashi needs too many things to count, right now, and more than half of them are so astronomically out of his reach that there’s this constant, rising pressure trying to climb up his throat, causing his heart to beat two times faster than it should and bringing his breaths up short. He hates it. But Minato-sensei won’t be able to do anything about it anyway, so Kakashi keeps silent.

 

By the time he actually makes it to the kitchen, Orochimaru is once again puttering around the counters like a particularly eerie ghost, and Minato-sensei is already setting out utensils next to soup bowls that Kakashi is vehemently certain he’s never owned in his life, in the past or now.

He trudges to a stop next to the table, noting that all four chairs are once again in their proper places, and stares at the unfamiliar dishes in silence. He feels Pakkun come up and lean against his leg without a word, pressing into him and providing a spot of warmth. Now that he’s out of the bath, Kakashi feels cold again, so he revels in anything he can get. It’s almost as if his body is having a hard time producing its own heat.

His confusion must show on his face, because Orochimaru is suddenly next to him, ladling soup from a pot into the bowls.

“I made a trip to the grocers,” the infamous nin comments idly.

“You did?”

Orochimaru flashes him a small smile that doesn’t show any teeth, that’s strangely soft-looking and seems out of place on the face that’s so prevalent for enemy in Kakashi’s memories. There’s absolutely nothing sinister about it, and even as Kakashi finds himself searching for an ulterior motive out of habit, there’s isn’t any there. It’s oddly satisfying, and Kakashi can’t figure out why.

Kakashi can’t help but smile back, even if it is just a slight uptick of the edges of his mouth. He can’t really muster the energy for anything more.

“I did,” Orochimaru confirms, placing the pot in the center of the table now that all four bowls are filled.

“Why?”

The sannin arches a brow at him, pulling out a chair and directing Kakashi to sit in it, before settling himself into the seat perpendicular.

“Your cupboards were offensively bare,” the man drawls.

“Offensively?”

Orochimaru waves a hand at Minato, who’s just standing there at the counter, clutching a set of silverware to his chest and staring dumbly around the room now that he has no chore to busy himself with. The blond blanches, and scrambles to sit in the chair directly across from Kakashi.

“Well,” Orochimaru says, “I was offended.” He smiles again, and this time it has a tiny flash of teeth, which screams danger, but is belied by the gleam of a dry wry of humor hidden in golden eyes.

There’s a scritch of nails against tile, and Pakkun hops up into the only chair left, to Kakashi’s right. Orochimaru passes the ninken a smaller soup bowl full of water, and the pug gives the Snake Sannin a grin that’s in stark contrast to the suspicion Pakkun was treating the man with last Kakashi knew.

He once again feels like he’s missing something.

Kakashi feels like a broken record, repeating himself, but, “Why?”

Orochimaru actually sighs. “I really do need to spell it out for you, don’t I?”

“Spell?” Kakashi stares at him. “What?”

He’s totally missing something, maybe a lot of somethings, because he has no clue what Orochimaru is getting at here.

Minato suddenly relaxes in his chair, very abruptly, which catches Kakashi’s attention, because, what? The blonde smiles across the table at him, a fond little grin that has an edge of amusement in it, and he says, “Orochimaru-san’s a staunch supporter of healthy eating. He took one look at the state of your kitchens and took insult.”

Kakashi narrows his eyes at his sensei. Yes, he decides when he sees Minato’s shoulders trembling ever so slightly. The man is laughing.

“It comes with being teammates with a Senju medic,” Orochimaru comments idly. Kakashi lets his gaze slide over to his face, just in time to catch the odd look that slides across it and then disappears. It looks a bit like pain and recurring disappointment, the man-turned-boy thinks quietly.

Orochimaru picks up his soup spoon, holds it between his hands, and mutters an ‘itidakimasu that is quickly followed by the rest of them.

Kakashi’s thoughts turn to Obito, his Obito, from the future, and… he thinks he can kind of understand, just a little bit.

He tucks into the miso without another word, and thereafter finds himself unable to speak again anyway, because kamisama preserve his soul the food is so amazing his mouth is watering for more even before he swallows the first bite. Kakashi sits stock still in his chair, eyes darting from the bowl in front of him to the spoon in his hand, before he ducks his head down and shovels another spoonful into his mouth.

Minato snorts quietly from behind his hand, and then tucks into his own meal. Kakashi watches vindictively as his sensei’s blue eyes widen in shock. Pakkun rolls his eyes at the both of them, grumbling nonsensical mutterings to himself as he laps at the miso in his dish.

Orochimaru isn’t looking at any of them, but that odd little smile is back on his face and has a smug edge to it’s curve.

They eat in silence for a good while. Kakashi spends the time practically inhaling his miso and taking small, savouring sips of the tea that Minato-sensei had poured when they’d sat down. It’s the same tea he had hours ago, and Kakashi kicks his legs (they can’t reach the floor ?), existing blissfully for just a moment, surrounded by delicious smells brought down from heaven itself via Orochimaru.

Maybe he’d been mistaken, when he’d first arrived here. Maybe this isn’t hell, or purgatory. Maybe he was being rewarded for the small good that he had accomplished in his life.

Orochimaru isn’t exactly the first person Kakashi would have considered for a conduit of the gods’ blessings, but as he holds a warm mug of tea to his chest, he thinks that he might come to see the light.

If this is the reward for the small good Kakashi has done in his past life, then what would the reward be for a higher level of good? Like, Naruto-good?

Kakashi is resolved. He will try his best to emulate his sunny student’s morals from now on. It’s obvious worth it in the end.

(He hopes Naruto is happy, wherever he ended up after… well, after .)

He’s starting to finally understand why Anko had revered Orochimaru so much as a child, and even admired him (even as she bitterly hurt and raged) as an adult.

Eventually, Kakashi’s peace comes to an end, when Minato sets down his eating utensils and sets his elbows against the edge of the table top, to clasp his hands in front of his face and stare at Kakashi over the table with an unusually serious expression.

Kakashi slows the rapid motion of his spoon from bowl to mouth, until it comes to hover uncertainty between the two destinations. A tendril of unease curls in his stomach, just beneath his diaphragm. It feels hot, and sour, and Kakashi lets his spoon fall back into his bowl with a quiet little clatter.

Orochimaru raises an eyebrow at him again. “Eat too fast?” He asks, and sounds entirely unsympathetic and unsurprised in equal measure.

Angels from the gods can be cruel as they can be kind, it seems.

Kakashi slowly shakes his head, regarding his stern-looking teacher with a level of wariness. He reaches out to grab his cup of tea and brings it close to his sternum to draw comfort from it’s warmth.

“When you left training that day,” Minato begins quietly, and the uneasy knot in Kakashi’s stomach spasms, “did you feel sick then?”

Kakashi lifts his mug to hide his mouth, biting his lip in an uncharacteristic show of nerves. He decides not to answer. He doesn’t even have an answer. Was he sick, at this time, in the past? Or was this illness a byproduct of—it still sounds absolutely crazy but Kakashi is running out of explanations here that make as much sense—traveling back? In any case, it’s been so long since Kakashi was actually twelve that even if he thinks about it really hard, there’s absolutely no chance of him divining the thought process and decision making of his younger self on a specific day that Kakashi has not actually lived in decades.

Minato seems to take this as an affirmative. A crease appears between his brows. “So you did. Why didn’t you tell me?”

Kakashi turns slowly back to face his teacher, mulling over the tone in which the question was posed. It sounds hurt . He matches his gaze with Minato-sensei’s, and sees the ocean in them, roiling with feelings and thoughts Kakashi can’t possibly discern or name. But, yeah, his teacher sounds upset by this.

Kakashi sinks in his chair, switching his stare to an empty space on the table top. Nobody speaks for a moment, the four of them surrounded by a sort of silence that plays at half-comfortable, but is actually tense and focused underneath the underneath. Orochimaru keeps eating, steadily, and Pakkun seems to be paying absolutely no attention to the conversation going on over his head—but his ears are perked up. He’s listening. So is the Sannin, by the gleam in gold irises that Kakashi catches out of the corner of his eye.

He reaches out to fish his spoon out of the dredges of miso. He cleans it off and sets it to the side of his plate.

He figures that the best option is to just tell the truth. “I don’t know.”

Minato doesn’t blink, but he sits back in his chair, with an agonizing sort of slowness that tells Kakashi he’s thinking miles a minute, that brilliant mind coming up with and discarding thousands of possibilities as to what the actual answers might be. He’s frowning.

“You don’t know?”

Kakashi doesn’t have enough energy for this conversation.

“No, I don’t. I don’t remember if I felt sick then or not, and I don’t know why I didn't tell you if I had. Or did I tell you? I don’t know, and,” the boy breaks off abruptly, sucking in a harsh breath when he realizes he’s rambling a bit. But his lungs have been wrung dry, so he sucks in another one and tries to pretend he doesn’t feel the stinging at his eyes. He fails when he brings up and fist to rub at them harshly.

“I don’t know,” he finishes, softly, and this time nobody talks again until the plates have been cleared.

 

Minato hovers by the apartment door—there’s no other word for it. The man is almost like a bee in that nature, Orochimaru can practically hear the buzzing he makes with his palpable worry and anxiousness. The color yellow suites him, there’s no doubt about that.

“I have nothing scheduled for this week in the least,” he hears himself saying, repeating in fact, and has to once again wonder why is he doing this? He could be in his labs right now, making another scientific discovery that will only work for the betterment of the villager and everyone in it, but instead he’s chosen to, what? Babysit a sick Chunin who is far too tiny to deserve the fraudulent dangers of the rank, so that his bouncing, absolutely bewildering jounin-sensei could continue training the rest of his students without (as much) concern for the boy’s wellbeing?

“I-I know,” Namikaze Minato says, wringing his hands and glancing over Orochimaru’s shoulder to where he can just barely see the young Hatake heir curled up on that pitiful, threadbare monstrosity that dares call itself a couch. “I just… he’s so out of it. Compared to how he usually is, it’s… it’s very concerning, you know.”

Orochimaru doesn’t, actually, having not truly met the boy before today—and what an incredibly peculiar creature, that boy is turning out to be—but he does know enough tact to not mention that little fact. Despite anything Jiraiya or even Tsunade might tell anyone, Orochimaru isn’t completely absent from societal niceties.

He can practically feel his expression begin to shut down at the direction his thoughts have turned, so he quickly forces it into a neutral look, waving a disinterested hand as if to physically banish the stuttering mess Minato was quickly devolving into.

“It’s fine,” he says, “I understand how it might be upsetting, but….” Here, he gives a little pause, raising an eyebrow at the blonde, “you do have two other students who require your attention, don’t you? Students who are waiting for you at their training grounds as we speak?”

The jounin visibly, ostensibly deflates. He drops his shoulders and runs an aggrieved hand through tastefully mussed blonde locks. “I—no, you’re right, you’re right.” As if there were any doubt. “I’ll leave him in your hands. Please send Pakkun if there’s anything you need.”

“Of course,” Orochimaru demurs. And then he closes the door in the man’s face. Maybe it would give him the kick he needed to actually leave.

He turns around from the entry and appraises the small, little form that’s balled up on the— Orochimaru hesitates to actually call it a couch, it most definitely needs to be replaced, and why in the world is Hatake’s heir holed up in this hovel when he has a perfectly good clan compound to the east?— furniture , an equally threadbare and ragged throw pillow clutches tightly to a tiny chest. He’s small, and Orochimaru is having a rather difficult time paying attention to anything else, because it keeps smacking him in the face. Kakashi Hatake is tiny , almost like he’d been once upon a time. There a thinness to him, a delicate tautness that makes it easy for any observer to trace out the very fine structure of his skeleton beneath skin. It’s only made more apparent by the dreadful illness that’s currently ravaging his body. In the early morning and frigid white light of the graveyard, he’d looked almost like a ghost, and Orochimaru had been quite ready to believe he was one before the boy had walked up and addressed the esteemed council member Shimura.

Orochimaru steps forward on silent feet, as if this were a mission and he were to ambush an enemy. He places the back of his hand against the boy’s forehead, and is once again rather impressed at the sheer heat that emanates from the Chunin’s skin. This is the type of fever that would make Tsunade foam at the mouth before barking strict orders to subordinates to get their asses moving she doesn’t have all day

The boy should really be seen to a hospital.

Instead, Orochimaru climbs back to his feet and makes his way to the kitchen, pulling out a beaten tin of loose-leaf and setting it on the counter. He takes the pot to the sink to rinse it clean.

The boy seems to practically worship Orochimaru’s personal blend, and while flattering, the aroma would certainly wake him should nothing else, sick or not.

As he sets the water to boil, Orochimaru can’t help but wonder, again, what he’s doing.

The only thing he was certain about was that the answer lay in the boy.

Chapter Text

Kakashi wakes up smelling the very aroma of heaven itself, and the sensation is so absolutely unfamiliar that it startles him into complete alertness, which is a rather poor position to be in, considering how terrible Kakashi has been feeling lately.

He further escalates it by sitting up too fast and rolling entirely off the couch he’d apparently fallen asleep (again) on. He lands on the floor without a sound, mostly because the breath has been knocked out of him so spectacularly he can’t even wheeze.

Something wet and cold pressed against the slime right behind his ear, and Kakashi flinches away from it. He lifts his hands up toward the couch and waves them around blindling, hoping to land on the blanket he’d been covered with until just a few moments ago. Pakkun inches in and noses at his face again, snorting at him.

“That’s one way to wake up, pup.” The pug drawls, and Kakashi whines quietly at the epithet, turning his face into the foot of the couch so that he doesn’t have to look at the ninken anymore.

He finally succeeds in locating the blanket, and rolls himself a bit away from the couch in order to slowly tug it off the cushions to join him on the floor. Then, after a pause to catch his breath, Kakashi rolls back into place, wrapping the blanket around him as he goes.

He hears Pakkun sigh, the sound muffled by the material now wrapped around his ears. A paw sets itself against his shoulder, and gives a few halfhearted pushes before apparently giving up and leaving him alone.

Kakashi lies there for a while. He doesn’t know how long. He lies there and aches with a weary, bone-deep pain that feels a bit like longing, though he isn’t sure what for. Probably a lot of things. There are so many things he misses dearly, that he knows he’ll never get back. His dad, for one, but that’s always been true, and it’s always hurt no matter how Kakashi learned to think about it. Minato-sensei, his teammates, how things had used to be before everything tore itself away from him seemingly all at once, leaving nothing left for Kakashi but a single drop of sunshine that was far too bright for Kakashi’s broken, slack soul to bear.

But here they all were, again. Kakashi could feel them, swimming on the edges of his senses, fleeting like dust particles in a far off sunbeam. Always on the edge of his senses, liked they’d once been so long ago. There they are, alive again, like nothing’s wrong.

Naruto, though. Sakura, Sasuke. Yamato. Genma and Gai and Anko and-

They were gone. All of them. Everyone Kakashi has ever known or ever will know from age seven on upwards is gone , and Kakashi isn’t going to kid himself with the faintest hope that he’s ever going to be able to get them back. Sure, they might still be alive; sure, most of them might still yet be born; sure , Kakashi has probably the best chance in all the universe of stopping the deaths of so many of his loved ones before they even happen, but .

But they won’t be Kakashi’s.

Kakashi is seven years old, stuck in a body he can barely remember how to operate, a complete stranger in a land that looks familiar but is utterly foreign in the way that only hindsight can allow a person. None of these people are the ones that he knew, and the new that he knew he’ll never reobtain.

He wriggles a bit, until he can bring his hands up to hover uncertainty before his own nose, barely enough room in the blanket burrito to move, and stares at the appendages. With a choked sound, and a voice that doesn’t even make it out of his throat, he mouths the words “itty bitty” to himself, and feels a strange sort of terror make merry chaos all across his nervous system.

Kakashi shakes against the hardwood floor. He pulls the blanket tighter around him, breathing coming in slow and steady. He can’t do anything but focus on the way it goes in and out, else he’d be hyperventilating and—well, why not? Passing out would be better than being awake to these horrible realizations.

A presence crouches beside him.  Kakashi tenses, and then relaxes beneath the blanket. His ears twitch.

After regarding him for a few long, silent moments, Orochimaru hums quietly from overhead. “You’ve been on the floor for quite a while now.”

Kakashi doesn’t move. He’s seven. Children fall asleep in odd places all the time. Shinobi children are even worse. For all the sannin knows, Kakashi fell off the couch only to go straight back to dozing.

A minute tremble wracks the form that still feels far too tiny to adequately contain all of himself. A large hand with long fingers places itself on his shoulder. It’s warm, and firm, and grounds him back in the reality Kakashi still isn’t sure he exists all the way in yet.

“There’s tea,” Orochimaru offers.

Kakashi lies there for a moment more, to gather whatever energy he has left, and then sits up. It’s a slow process, the blanket tumbling down from his shoulders inch by inch until he (or half of him at least, as sitting tends to go) is vertical. Before his mind can possibly think better of it, Kakashi is raising his hands up toward Orochimaru with a silent but obvious intent.

Kakashi feels like death is coming for him, but to his inward shock all the snake sannin does is raise his brows a bit, before he reaches forward and scoops Kakashi’s little seven year old body into his arms and stands up. It’s quite a ways up. The man is pretty tall. Or, Kakashi is just really short. 

With something rather like despair, Kakashi leans forward to lay his head down on the legendary nin’s shoulder. Long, silky black hair catches his eyes before he closes them, and the fingers of the hand he brings up to rest by his face get tangled in it. The other hand flops bonelessly against Orochimaru’s chest as he carries Kakashi to the kitchen.

He should feel belittled, irritated, ashamed, of being treated like a child when he has decades worth of wars and assassinations and failures inside of his head. Instead, he just feels warm. Kakashi can’t remember the last time he could feel the heat his body supposedly produced on its own. He’s always so cold now. His fingers feel like ice cubes. In contrast, Orochimaru is like a furnace. He burns against Kakashi wherever they’re touching. Kakashi is helpless but to snuggle in deeper and wish that the distance to his kitchen table was longer than just the few steps it takes Orochimaru to reach it.

He’s settled into a chair. Suddenly bereft of the pleasant and welcoming warmth, Kakashi feels dizzy. Moments later, the blanket is once against dropped around his shoulders, and tucked in by deft hands that almost immediately after place a steaming mug of the stuff heaven must be made out of on the table before him.

Kakashi sits there for a moment, confusedly content and upset all at once, eyes barely open. He stares through his lashes at the heat vapor drifting slowly up from the tea, and then blinks a few times in the hopes that his eyes will open a bit wider.

No such luck. Kakashi gives up and leans forward, carefully tugging the mug toward him and huddling over it like a moth who’s just found their first taste of flame. He inhales the spiced citrus scent and blows it back out in a slow, deep sigh.

After a few rounds of aromatherapy, Kakashi feels awake enough to attempt actual verbalization. He studies the steam curling up from The Tea, and breathes out a quiet, “Thank you.”

Orochimaru sits himself down in the chair opposite him, a mug of his own in his hands. Kakashi realizes that he’s never seen either of these cups before in his life. Where the hell did they come from.

“Of course.”

Kakashi won’t admit it in a court of law, but he thereafter zoned out almost completely. By the time the world comes back into focus, it hardly feels like any time has past at all, but his mug is entirely empty of the wonderful heat it had contained. He glances down to find his tea absent, consumed. As good as The Tea has proven to be, for all he knows it could have only been a few seconds that he was out that he downed it all, but Kakashi would like to think he has more restraint than that. He prefers to savour the good things in life, what with there being so few of them.

He glances up to find Orochimaru staring at him with the light of amusement gleaming in his eyes. He’s got one elbow on the table, propping up a hand to support his chin as he stares at Kakashi with that odd but quickly becoming familiar smile quirking at his lips ever so slightly.

Kakashi stares back at him, and then says, “You said you were going tomorrow.”

A single brow raises. “I’m sorry?”

“The shopping,” Kakashi says. “You said you were going tomorrow, but you went before dinner.”

Orochimaru shrugs, silk hair that Kakashi now knows for fact is actually softer sliding over his shoulder. “I needed some things for dinner. As I said, your cupboards were offensively bare.”

He gives Kakashi a neutral look, and then repeats himself, slower this time. “ Offensively.

And then he sips his tea. Kakashi watches him, and looks back down at his own, empty mug. He’s disappointed that its contents is gone. He wasn’t even aware enough to enjoy it. Kakashi , he inwardly berates himself, why are you like this .

“The silverware, though,” he recalls. “And the dishes. And these cups. They’re not mine?”

“They are now.”

Why ?” Kakashi asks, baffled.

Orochimaru sets his mug on the table. He looks Kakashi up and down, and something on the very edges of his eyes makes Kakashi sit up a little straighter and take notice.

The snake sannin is silent for a long, pensive moment, and Kakashi doesn’t dare speak, because he feels that if he does, something might break it. And he doesn’t want that. He isn’t sure why, but Kakashi wants Orochimaru to stay, and he wants it badly. He thinks that, if the nin were to leave now, Kakashi would go straight back to drowning again.

It’s a little bit of a shock to realize, but Orochimaru seems to be the miracle of dry land after the shipwreck that stranded him to this time in the first place.

Kakashi isn’t sure what to feel about that, but whatever it is, it’s nothing bad. It feels a sort of like relief.

Finally, Orochimaru regards him with a thoughtful eye, and shrugs, lifting his mug back into his hands.

“Because I wanted to,” he says, and leans back in his seat like that should be the end of it

Kakashi blinks. Well, he thinks to himself as he wordlessly holds out the mug to the snake sannin in a silent plead for seconds and actually gets a quiet laugh in return. That’s a bit more alright than he’d expected.




It’s when Kakashi’s onto his third cup of tea that there’s the knock on his door. It’s not too loud, just a fraction quieter than is average, and it’s four beats repeated one after the other. Polite to a fault. After that, there’s nothing, because why knock again when you’ve already announced yourself to the occupants within?

Kakashi sits in that kitchen chair, stiller than a statue, clutching at his tea with a white knuckled grip. He stares down into it, at the near centimeter depth of drink left. It’s gone a little lukewarm, but Kakashi has been pleased to find that the heat of the blend follows itself down into his core when he drinks it.

Orochimaru glances up from the scroll that was spread casually across his lap. He lounges in the stiff wooden chair like it was a throne, one leg propped up on the other knee. He studies the line of Kakashi’s spine, and cocks his head to the left.

“Shall I be answering that?” He asks curiously.

“... No,” Kakashi says quietly, shoulders hunched. “ I should.”

He gets a long look for that answer, before Orochimaru shrugs his shoulders indifferently and goes back to his scroll, hooking his tea cup by it’s handle and taking in a long draw.

Yes, Kakashi thinks. Angels can indeed be cruel.

He slides himself off the chair, experiencing a momentary flash of hysterical frustration at the fact that his feet when sitting are a good foot off the goddamn ground, before turning toward the sitting room, to where the front entry sits.

For every step that he takes to that door, Kakashi feels every single year he’s ever lived settle into the weight on his shoulders, bearing down and bending his spine. By the time he actual lays his hand on the doorknob, Kakashi feels like a slight breeze could knock him off his feet and send him tumbling to the ground.

It’s definitely not a good position to be in. Not for this. Especially not for this.

He opens the door anyway, because Kakashi knows that everything happening to him right now is inevitable anyway. It doesn’t mean he has to look forward to it.

The door swings in, and standing across the threshold is a girl just barely a head taller than he stands now. She holds a Tupperware container in both hands, and there’s a nervous but cheery and kind smile fixed on her lips.

Kakashi wants to slam the door closed in her face. He wants to so badly, but he knows it would go over well with literally no one anywhere, so instead he leans into it and blinks at her quizzically. It’s about all he has energy left to do. He’d spent most of it walking over here.

“K-Kakashi-kun,” the girl greets, smile widening ever so slightly. “Good morning! Or—or afternoon!”

“Rin,” he returns warily, trying his best to keep anything that he’s thinking off his face. She’s scarily perceptive when it concerns the people she cares about, which Kakashi counts towards for a reason only the kami and Rin herself likely know. “Is it?”

“... Ah?”

“After noon,” he elaborates. He casts a glance over his shoulder, to where he can just barely see Orochimaru sitting at the dining table, as if in hopes for a confirmation of the time. The man doesn’t even look up from his scroll. No help from him, then. Kakashi isn’t even sure why he tried.

The barest hint of worry crinkles the skin between Rin’s brows, and she's obviously trying so hard to hide it behind the friendly smile, but Kakashi’s read people for a living. There’s always the little tells, like the way she adjusts her grip o the container.

“Yes,” she affirms, taking a hesitant step forward and gesturing toward the Tupperware. “Um, may I come in? I brought you some lunch!”

Kakashi stares at her, for perhaps a second too long than was necessary, because she begins to fidget again. He carefully pushes himself off the door and, despite going slowly, almost falls over his own feet back into the sitting room.

“Yeah,” he says. “Okay.”

He leads her into the apartment, and barely blinks before he’s sitting down on the couch again, staring into Pakkun’s grumpy scowl. “Huh,” he says, and glances around.

Rin’s sitting primly on the cushion beside him, wringing her hands in her lap, Tupperware nowhere in sight. She edges a millimeter over and gazes worriedly at him from behind Pakkun’s head.

“You sort of,” she pauses, and bites her lip. “You sort of tripped. Ah, your friend, um, Oro-“

“Snake-boy caught ya before you irreparably damaged your adorable little face and set you on the couch for safe keeping,” Pakkun says, deftly dodging around the hand Kakashi automatically lashes out with in retaliation for the perceived insult to the snake sannin. He’s not even sure why anymore. Apparently it’s instinct now.

Orochimaru himself leans over the back of the couch to look down his nose at Kakashi. Somehow he doesn’t even look snobbish, though Kakashi feels he rightly should.

“You’ve really got to stop all of this fainting,” the man drawls smoothly. “What’s the point of fighting it? Just go to bed and don’t get up until it passes.”

“Does that work for you,” Kakashi asks. It’s not exactly posed as a question, but he is curious about the answer. Does Orochimaru actually sleep? No, that’s stupid. Why wouldn’t he?

Kakashi side eyes the man a little suspiciously. There’s a question.

Orochimaru presses a quiet breath out of his nose—not quite a scoff, but it has the same energy as one. He turns on his heel and heads back toward the kitchen for his tea and his scroll.

“You should eat something,” he tosses over his shoulder as he leaves Kakashi to the nervous girl and the stressed out nanny ninken. Swell guy.

“Um!” Rin hops up to her feet, nervous energy making Kakashi feel a little jittery just by proximity. “I actually, I made—stir fry. Back home. But I had extra, and, well…”

She grins a bit uneasily, obviously still caught off guard by Kakashi apparently fucking blacking out on the floor after inviting her into his home. “I had extra, and I heard you weren’t… feeling well. So I thought…”

Kakashi eyes her from his peripheral. “What kind of stir fry?”

Rin’s shoulders smooths out a bit. “Um, eggplant. With garlic.”

Kakashi stares at her. Kami, he thinks, Rin’s an actual liar, the hell? She didn’t make this for herself and just end up with surplus, she made it for Kakashi with the intent of giving it to him after. Eggplant? Kakashi’s favorite. Everyone and their mother knew that… for some odd reason, Kakashi isn’t really sure of, just that it probably had something to do with Gai and shouting things from mountaintops. And garlic? Garlic ?

Kakashi’s no chef or village medicine guru, but—

“What did you think I was sick with,” he asks, and he’s so obviously out of his depth that he’s not even trying to cover it up with false bravado.

Rin’s face goes bright red, and she gives a sheepish little laugh, shoulders dropping in defeat. “Ha… um, sensei said you were nauseous, so I figured it was a stomach ache or the flu or something…”

She trails off, bites her lip again, and adds, “But, with what just happened, I think it’s a bit more than just being sick? Are you okay?”

“Absolutely not,” Kakashi replies automatically, “thank you for asking.”

Rin stares at him with a silent, slightly open-mouthed sort of shock, and Kakashi gives himself an inward shake.

He slouches down a bit into the seat cushion, and sighs. “I’m sorry,” he says. “It’s all really just… a lot.”

Rin looks alarmed. “Is it really bad?” She asks him, voice hushed. “Like, need a hospital, bad?”

Kakashi treats her with a suspicious stare, suddenly very much aware of the fact that, though she isn’t one yet, Rin has most certainly been a medic nin in another life.

“No, of course not,” he says.

From in the kitchen, Orochimaru audibly chuckles. Kakashi sends the man a narrow-eyed look, despite being unable to actually see him from the couch. The wall separating them would not be enough to shield Orochimaru from Kakashi’s unamusement.

Rin studies him a bit harder than Kakashi really wants her too, in this moment. After some time, though, he seems to check out as not immediately dying, so she just nods and steps back to give him some breathing space, a tiny little blush adorning her tattooed cheeks.

“So! Um,” she scratches her arm, and then gestures toward the kitchen. “Stir fry?”

Kakashi nods, and somehow they make it all the way to the table without him checking out from consciousness again. Will wonders never cease.

Eating a meal with Rin and Orochimaru is quality entertainment, at least for Kakashi, who is now apparently immune to the previously natural innate terror and wariness of the snake sannin that everyone seems to experience. Rin, decidedly, is not, and keeps glancing at the man from the corner of her eye as she pushes noodles around on her plate, unable to scrounge up enough appetite to actually eat. Orochimaru, bless the man, patiently ignores her very existence, which is a good thing, since Kakashi is pretty sure Rin might up and run from the apartment if he so much as spoke a word to her.

It’s sad, Kakashi suddenly realizes. Sad, because even Rin, who had been the standard of kindness that he’d compared everyone else to all throughout his life, is caught up in the villager’s fear mongering.

They tuck into the food quietly. Kakashi hasn’t been out long enough for it to need rehearing, and Rin has apparently trooped on over immediately after finishing it, because there’s still steam curling up from it when she takes the lid off. A noodle sizzles. Kakashi eyes her in slight alarm, but she determinedly ignored him, dishing out three plates of the stir fry and setting them at the table, one in front of Orochimaru with a hesitant but asking smile. The man stares at her for barely three second, but accepts graciously before her hand can start to tremble and drop the dish.

Pakkun’s disappeared, probably back to wherever he goes when he’s not babysitting Kakashi’s dumb ass, and the boy momentarily chases the thought of what dogs he has with him at this point in time, exactly. He sits down and picks up a pair of chopsticks—nice ones, polished black wood and definitely not anything Kakashi would ever buy for himself, living off take-out more often than not anyway—and digs in, figuring he has at least Pakkun, Bull, and Shiba. He thinks he might have Bisule and Ūhei, as well, but… no, he’s seven. Ūhei wouldn’t be here yet.

Kakashi eats silently, feeling substantially down. He suddenly misses his dogs so much that it feels like ice in his stomach, making it a bit difficult to eat the food, which is a crying shame because it honestly tastes amazing. Rin always did had a knack for cooking, and though it isn’t anywhere near Orochimaru’s level (because apparently that was a thing), it’s obvious she’d put a lot of effort into this.

Kakashi lifts up another bite, and slides it out from between the chopsticks with his teeth, achingly slowly and very much aware of every second that ticks past. Time passes like this for a while, and he sits there with one hand manning his chopsticks and his food while the other curls protectively around the tea cup, tucking it close to his chest as if someone might come by a take it from him should he let it go. Time crawls by and at the same time Kakashi feels like the rest of the day has passed even if it’s only bee fifteen minutes. He’s tired. And worn. And he doesn’t want to be here at all, because Rin keeps glancing over at him from beneath her bangs and Kakashi can’t stand seeing her smile at him, knowing everything he’s done to her and having it just be wiped clean like this. It grossly unfair. She doesn’t remember. Of course she doesn’t remember. She’d been dead, and now it hasn’t even happened yet.

His head swims confusedly.

Kakashi glances over toward the fridge, toward the calendar hanging on it’s door, and goes still at the date displayed there. Someone, probably Minato judging by the cheerful duck yellow ink, has been marking off the days for him since he’d come back, because he’s certainly not been doing it. Bright Xs lance across half a weeks worth of boxes, leading up to the current day, which is a Thursday.

Kakashi kind of hates Thursdays, because all the horrible things in his life seems to happen on them, every time.

He turns back to his plate with a more subdued pace, pushing the last few bites of stir fry around with his chopsticks. It’s been delicious, compliments to Rin’s hard-earned cooking skills, but now Kakashi can only stare sightlessly down at them, appetite vanished and stomach doing funny little flips that he really hopes settle down before he loses its contents in a most unpleasant fashion.

Rin frowns at him from across the table. “Kakashi-kun?”

He sets his chopsticks aside, placing them on his napkin.

“Nothing,” he says, and then winces internally, adding, “I’m fine,” when neither of his lunch mates looks like they believe him.

Orochimaru gives a small, nearly incredulous shake of his head. He’d finished his plate ages ago and was perusing his scroll once more, head bowed over his lap. Somehow, his spine didn’t seem to be suffering from the position, and Kakashi is envious, because he remembers back pain from when he’d been older. Lots and lots of back pain.  

“Whenever you say that,” the sannin comments, “you’re lying.”

Kakashi stares at his plate, at the last bite of stir fry that he knows he can’t possibly fit into his stomach. If he tries, that’s the end of it. He’ll be confined to the bathroom for the rest of the afternoon.

“Quite badly,” Orochimaru tacks on, almost as an afterthought. He stands up and goes to put on another pot. Kakashi’s beginning to think this is the reason his skin is so flawless, and the man himself so long lived. He inhales tea like it’s air. He must experience the health benefits to an infinite.

And, god, but Kakashi is definitely going to follow in his footsteps on that.

A hand touches his arm. He glances over at it—it’s small, but still a bit bigger than his are. Rin looks at him worriedly from where she’s sitting around the table corner from him, plate long since already washed clean and put away in the cupboards.

“Are you sure everything’s okay?” She asks, worrying at her bottom lip. “You’re not feeling sick at all?”

“I’m feeling sick no matter what all the time,” Kakashi says, because he has absolutely no brain-to-mouth filter at all. “It doesn’t really mean anything now.”

Rin’s brows meet, a contemplative frown pulling at her eyes, and Kakashi sinks lower in his seat, reaching out to push his plate away from him. He eyes his empty tea mug with an air of distaste, and turns an expectant look toward Orochimaru.

The man, curse him, doesn’t look up for a good few minutes, and Kakashi is content to stare intently at him until the message gets through, god forbid he use his words —until Rin apparently can’t handle the awkwardness any longer and gives a small, polite cough that makes the sannin glance up lazily from whatever it was he was so immersed in reading.

Orochimaru blinks, and eyes Kakashi for a moment, before snorting and reaching out to snag the boy’s mug and refilling it from the fresh pot he’d prepared.

Kakashi accepts the mug, unable to withhold the pleased little noise that bubbles up out of his throat when his hands come in contact with that pleasant heat that exudes from the ceramic like a siren call, and draws it close to his chest in the hopes some of it will emanate there as well.

Rin stares at him, and continues to until Kakashi offhandedly murmurs out an absent, “thank you.”

Orochimaru hums, returning to his scroll—Kakashi is starting to get curious about that thing—and the both of them leave Rin to sit there in the comfortable silence that follows.

Not very comfortable for her, though, Kakashi realizes when he she begins to fidget again. She has her hands folded in her lap and wrings them out almost obsessively as she locks her gaze meekly on the table grains, instead of looking anywhere else.

He sits there for a moment longer, pressing his steaming cup against his diaphragm and sighing quietly at the warmth it sends pulsing into him just from touch alone. Then, he gets up from the chair and uses the newfound energy to make his way to the living room.

“Come on,” he says over his shoulder when all Rin does is stare dumbly after him. “I skipped some training. Tell me what I missed.”

There’s a moment of stillness, before a shaky but real grin makes its way across her face, and she bounces up from the chair to follow him to the couch.

Kakashi doesn’t see it, but it feels like Orochimaru is rolling his eyes after them.




“—then,” Rin continues, eyes narrowed and tongue flicking out to push at the corner of her mouth as she stares at the string threaded around her hands avidly, crossing it over itself some here and tying a piece off there, “sensei put us both onto water walking drills again. Probably expected it to translate into a sense of admission and reformation.”

She’s finger-knitting, and Kakashi had forgotten all about this little quirk of hers. About how she did it, sometimes with her fingers but later on more often with senbon needles, in order to let out some of the bounciness that eternally plagued her. Otherwise there’d be no chance of her sitting still. He can just barely recall once having a long, soft scarf hanging up on a coat hook once, and finally remembers that she’d made it for him after a mission that had been rather difficult on all of them. It had given her something to do.

It had been light blue. Kakashi never wore it, not once, but when he’d been much older, and Rin long since gone from his life, he’d sometimes run his fingers over it when the moments of quiet that pervaded his life would become too much to bear. The scarf doesn’t exist now. That mission never happened. And Rin is here, sitting next to him, practicing a stitch that Kakashi now remembers her being a master at, before.

He presses his back against the cushions, moving his shoulder blades back and forth to feel the rough fabric through his thin t-shirt.

“Was it for punishment?” He asks.

Rin looks up at that, an absent sort of calculating glint shining in her eyes that Kakashi doesn’t remember being a characteristic of her, but perhaps that’s just another thing he’d forgotten about her as time had passed on. He’s been sitting here for a good two hours, listening to her ramble on about the three days of training he’d missed and psychoanalysing every single aspect of the interactions she’d had with their sensei and third and final teammate.

“No,” she finally muses. “I don’t think so. He’s been really distracted lately, and neither of us have really been putting our all into our training this week. I think he was frustrated. He usually reverts to teammate training exercises when he feels like he’s not doing well as a teacher. I think that he feels that, if he can’t impart anything more on us today, then maybe we can find a way to help each other out instead.”

She sinks her teeth into her bottom lip, staring at the far wall as she thinks. “It’s like he can’t stand not having any sort of progress happen when we’re all working to better ourselves. Maybe he feels like he’s a bad sensei, if he can’t teach us at least something every time we get together to train. Like that saying, ‘you learn something new every day’? I think he subconsciously takes it as an ultimatum.”

It’s odd. He hadn’t thought Rin was that observant, that good at reading people, that introspective. He’s heard more hypotheses about the inner workings of Minato-sensei’s mind in the last hour than he’d ever pondered in his entire life. Most of him had really just assumed the man winged it, all of it, all the time, but according to Rin’s theories, Minato actually gave quite a lot of thought to everything he did. Overthinking a lot of things, too, occasionally, apparently just to give his overactive mind something to keep it busy.

Rin might have an overactive mind too, Kakashi thinks, if this is what she goes on about when someone gives her a chance to actually chatter away at them.

He’ll have to watch himself carefully from now on, the man-turned-boy suddenly realizes. He’s surrounded by a lot more genii than he’d previously assumed. Maybe, or maybe he doesn’t have to keep his eyes open at all. Kakashi feels almost naked to everyone’s eyes. Like they can all see right through him no matter what he does. What’s the point in trying to hide anything from the people closest to you if they were all frighteningly intelligent in some way or another?

Is everyone in Konoha just that terrifyingly smart and observant and prodigious?

Kakashi thinks about Naruto, and has to withhold a bitingly sour scoff. No. The villagers had proved the opposite, time and time again, willfully flat out ignoring the obvious. Naruto and his sunny smiles and the paradoxical demon inked into his gut. He thinks about Orochimaru, and cooking, and his lips thin beneath the navy mask. He thinks about his dad, and swords—the actual weapons, and words that could be used as such, and suddenly Kakashi can’t hear Rin talking at all.

He’s looking down at his hands. They lie in his lap, clenched into white-knuckled fists around the hems of his shorts. They’re shaking.

He looks up in the silence to find Rin staring at him. The calculating glint is still there, and her face holds no expression, but Kakashi feels like his whole self is being exposed for her perusal and observation. He hunches forward a little bit, subconsciously entertaining the instinct to hide away from her gaze.

The energy approaching the apartment isn’t exactly helping his frazzled nerves in any way at all.

The two of them sit there, silently, Kakashi staring at his knees like they’re the most fascinating thing in the world, and Rin’s fingers are moving like a lightning jutsu. At this rate she’ll complete an entire sweater before the evening’s out.

Footsteps thunder outside in the corridor, and Kakashi really just wants to go crawl in bed, close his eyes, and pretend his very hardest that nothing outside his bedroom even exists anymore. He should have known.

Where Rin goes, there’s one person who typically tends to follow.

Kakashi sucks in a deep breath and steels himself as the familiar and bittersweet energy converges outside his apartment. Might as well just rip the bandage off in one fell swoop, he guesses.

Chapter Text

Minato runs a hand through his hair as he approaches the tower from the rooftops, hoping it doesn’t look as bedraggled and greasy as Minato feels. He hadn’t really had the time to even head home for a shower, and he can still feel the sweat from yesterday’s training coating his body.

Minato shudders and attempts to turn his thought in another direction. He hates feeling dirty.

It most certainly isn’t Kakashi’s fault, of course not. The poor boy hadn’t even been awake when Minato had left, and the last look he’d had of his student, Kakashi had appeared no better than the day before. It was greatly disheartening. Minato had really been clinging to the idea that this sickness was one of the ones that could be cleared with a good clean and some ample rest and fluids—but no. It seems like this isn’t just a really bad cold or the flu like he’s been hoping. Kakashi really has something wrong going on here.

It’s terrifying to think, but Minato debates with himself whether or not he should actually go through with taking the boy to the hospital after all.

Kami, when would Kushina be home? She was so much better at all this than Minato could ever hope to be. He’s not quite sure how he’d ever lived without her there to manage his life.

He’d told something similar to Hiruzen just the other week. The old man had laughed at him, and then admitted that he’d most likely be dead several times over were it not for his wife.

Wife —the word puts buzzing hornets inside Minato’s stomach. Weren’t they suppose to be butterflies? Whoever had some up with that phrase clearly had never actually been in love.

He vaults over the shingles of the final building and hauls himself over the window sill of Hiruzen’s office with as little sound as possible. He’d been yelled at the other day for being too loud—which, honestly… who complained about that in a ninja village? Every civilian Minato had ever met in his life had at one moment or another asked him point-blank to stop being to quiet , and Minato hadn’t even been trying to sneak then!

Ninja, Minato decides, are strange. Or maybe it’s the civilians who are the odds ones. Actually, perhaps it was just everyone?

The world would make more sense that way, wouldn’t it.

The Hokage gives him a gloomy look from over the multiple stacks of paperwork crowding for space on the man’s desk. Minato pretends not to see it, and cheerfully leans himself on a free corner of the wood, also resolutely ignoring the paperwork that looms over him threateningly. If he pretends it doesn’t exist, then it has no place in his future, at all, ever.

Minato can keep his fingers crossed, can’t he?

Hiruzen sniffs, and then frowns. “... Why do you smell like bleach?”

Minato’s face goes red. “Th—These are the same clothes from yesterday!” He yelps, forgetting for a moment that the Hokage does not, in fact, just naturally know every single faucet of his life inside and out (despite how the old man occasionally may pretend).

They both stare at each other for a long moment, Hiruzen blinking rapidly while Minato’s face feels frozen in some sort of grimace. He can hear an ANBU or two shift in the rafters, and embarrassment burns inside his chest.

“Okay,” Hiruzen agrees, baffled. “Why?”

Minato presses his lips together and turns to resolutely stare out the nearest window, which is left open simply because half the ninja in the village don’t understand how to use the door. He crosses his arms over his chest, and answers, “Well. I was over at Kakashi’s apartment last night to check up on him, and we all figured it’d do him some good to take a bath.”

He spins around, face morphing into a slightly upset expression. “But the tub was filthy —not that I’d have expected much else from a bathroom in one of the older apartment complexes, but there was no way I was letting Kakashi bathe in a tub with—with grime and scum and just—“

Minato pauses, rubbing both hands over his face like the action would wipe away the mental picture of the utter grossness of the tub from his mind. “So I just. I cleaned it. But now I smell like bleach, because I got some on my clothes and,” he gestures helplessly at the knees of his pants, which instead of the dark navy of typical ninja attire, there were spots of bright orange where he’d accidentally kneeled in a puddle of chemicals.

Hiruzen scrutinizes him, hand running through his beard in a way that Minato feels is a little judgemental. “Biyako tends to use baking soda to clean tile and porcelain. Leaves less of a stench, and gets more of a scrub in.”

“I know that!” Minato’s hands fly up to tear at his hair. “Kushina taught me better. And no ninja worth his salt would use bleach for anything other than… well, you know. What we use bleach for. Not cleaning .”

“It was technically invented for cleaning,” the Hokage comments mildly.

“Yeah, for civilians .”

Hiruzen’s lips twitch beneath his beard.

The blonde ninja harrumphs. “Kakashi doesn’t have any baking soda, not in his entire apartment. Who doesn’t have baking soda? It practically comes with a place when you buy it, already in the fridge or the laundry room or—something!”

“And why couldn’t you have just worn a clean outfit this morning? You do own more than one suit, don’t you? I should hope you’re not wearing the same one day in and day out.”

“Oh, I spent the night at Kakashi’s,” Minato says. “He really wasn’t looking too sharp, and I didn’t feel right leaving him there by himself all night. I didn’t have time to go home and change clothes this morning before training.”

“He’s been fine for the past two nights, hasn’t he?”

Minato makes a face. “Define ‘fine’ for me, because I’m not really sure Kakashi’s it.”

Hiruzen leans back in his chair, staring ahead of his desk at the wall where the portraits of the past Hokage hang, loomingly, ready to judge every single decision of the current one. He runs another hand through his beard, hums, and the absentmindedly shuffles one of the many stacks of papers on his desk.

Minato steps away from the window, finding one of the office chairs and seating himself in it with a tired sigh. He leans his elbows on his knees and clasps his hands together.

 

“Councilman Shimura asked after Hatake-kun the other day, you know.”

He glances up. The Hokage is staring at him with a unreadable expression on his face, one that’s belied by the intense watchful gleam that shines in his eyes. He’s fishing for something here, perhaps from Minato’s reaction, or reply, but Minato isn’t sure what.

“He seemed quite miffed, oddly enough.”

“How is that odd?” Minato asks carefully, holding himself still. “Shimura-san is always miffed about one thing or another. I thought that was just his default personality.”

Hiruzen gives him a look, but Minato firmly glances away from it. He’s only speaking the truth, anyway, and the old man knows it too, even if he is blind to everything else his old friend Danzou seems to get up to in his free time. Minato refuses to be non-verbally chastised for simply stating fact.

“Why are you looking at me like that?” He asks, when the man doesn’t let up. “I’m right.”

Hiruzen just sighs, and rubs at the bridge of his nose between his eyes. Minato almost feels a little bad, but not enough that he’ll do anything about it. Half the Hokage’s problems are created by the man’s own decisions and behavior. If Minato didn’t want to make a difference in the world so that it’d be safer and happier for the people that he cares about, he would curse his child self for ever thinking becoming Hokage was a good career path. Look what it’s done to Sarutobi Hiruzen, the so called Kami of Shinobi.

Minato tilts his head and looks his mentor over with careful eyes. He isn’t quite so old, by normal standards, but by shinobi standards? Hiruzen is practically an ancient artifact. Ninja don’t live very long, and people of their culture learn to accept that from a very young age, knowing that they can die from any means whatsoever at any time in the near future.

Minato doesn’t care much about himself, no. He’s done enough already that he’s content with whatever end the Kami have lined up for him. Sure, he could definitely do more, and he will continue to strive for that until the day comes where he actually does bite the dust. But the very prospect when applied to his loved ones terrifies him.

It may be why he’s been so off-kilter all week. Finding Kakashi nearly comatose on the boy’s own bathroom floor had nearly given Minato a heart attack, and even now Minato won’t kid himself by thinking Kakashi isn’t in serious trouble. He’s been dazed and confused and overly-emotional since he first woke up, and Minato might just go insane with worry if this goes on for any longer.

Now, if Kakashi were a normal child, he might not be so concerned. Kids, even ninja kids, cried or got moody when they aren’t feeling all that great. It would make sense.

But, Kakashi isn’t a normal child, ninja, civilian or otherwise. He’s never done a single thing that befits a normal child since Minato first met him. And all of a sudden, it’s like a dam’s been burst, and all of Kakashi’s repressed child instincts have flooded his system and taken over.

Minato isn’t exactly sure whether he should be worried or relieved . Both feelings war inside him, fighting for the top spot and mingle harshly with everything else swimming in his brain.

On one hand, it’s nice to see Kakashi acting his age. He of all people deserves to feel the comfort of childhood, and Minato knows of at least a handful of people—Orochimaru, bizarrely, now to be counted among that handful—who would definitely not mind providing the boy that comfort. On the other hand, watching the repressed emotions and instincts collapse over a person like a tidal wave is akin to bearing witness to the drowning of someone you care about without being able to swim out and help them.

Minato will swim out anyway, even if it seems like there’s nothing he can do. He’ll be the rock Kakashi can cling to to stay out of the roiling waves. He has to be. Kakashi doesn’t have a lot of people left. And Minato will be damned before he allows the boy to sink.

Hiruzen sets the papers down on a clear space of the desk and pulls out his pipe, fiddling with the end of it. Minato watches him pack the bowl with some sort of tar, and idly wonders if he should actually avoid the Hokage position after all.

“I understand that you don’t necessarily approve of him,” the Hokage begins genially, and Minato resists the urge to roll his eyes, because oh boy, here they go. “Danzou has had to make many difficult sacrifices for the betterment of the village. All that he does, is with—“

“The best for Konoha in mind,” Minato interrupts, quoting the old man himself, because they’ve had this same conversation too many times to count, and Hiruzen always says the same thing. “But can you, without a single doubt in your mind, say that what Danzou considers in the best interests of Konoha is really and truly what the village needs?”

The Hokage stares cooly at him from over the great wooden desk, and Minato has two vividly contrasting thoughts in that moment. The first is rather enthusiastic, a hollering This is why I’m going to become Hokage! To change things like this to the way that it should be! The second is quieter, more subdued, but it echoes hauntingly in the back of his head as Minato meets the old man’s gaze and sees a vast, empty weariness tug at their corners, strain at the man’s shoulders and claw at his war-beaten skin like it’s trying to drag him to an early grave.

Is it really worth it after all? What use is it to prune and cultivate a tree whose roots have been rotted through?




Grief is a funny thing, and not necessarily in a humorous way. Though some may see it that way simply so their minds can process it. Kakashi once knew a career chunin who’d lost all genin teammates early on, and who from then on until his own death joked and teased about mortality as if he were flirting with the shinigami itself, simply because otherwise he wouldn’t have been able to go on past the trauma.

And that was fine. Everyone deals with it differently. Genma had lost a lot of the same people Kakashi had, and the Hatake had first row seats to the Shiranui’s unique brand of grief—shoveling it all up to let loose on the battlefield. Genma would occasionally sit by himself at the bar, having a single beer—he was never one to drink excessively—and stew in a broody sort of silence, and everyone would know to leave him alone. But, generally, Genma let loose in spars and in battles and, later, in war. It had kept him better relaxed in more polite company.

It’s nearly the same for Kakashi. Sure, he uses his negative feelings as a driving force in battle—what good shinobi doesn't? Except, Kakashi never really unlocked the ability of turning it off elsewhere, like Genma had seemed to. And Kakashi wasn’t exactly one to joke or make fun about something that affected him so strongly. It just feels disrespectful to everyone that he’d failed to save.

Grief, for Kakashi, is like another physical scar. It sits there, carved out of your own skin, and you can feel it every day of your life as you live and breath while others can’t anymore. It pulsates with a distant, thundering sort of pain when it rains, and with storms comes a melancholy mood that is difficult to shake off even when the sun shows it face again afterward.

Grief clings to Kakashi like it were part of his own scent. Whenever he inhales deeply enough, he can smell it surrounding himself like a heavy perfume. It’s suffocating, occasionally, but he’s learned to live with it, because Kakashi was always both too strong and too cowardly to die from it. It had come close to killing him, too many times to count, but then he’d think of his father and how furious and betrayed Kakashi could remember feeling toward the man, and at the last second he’d find so many reasons not to let it win.

At first it was ANBU. The elite shadows had been down in numbers following the Kyuubi attack. If Kakashi were to die, that’d just be one less member to do the dirty work Konoha needed in the background to function in relative peace. Who was Kakashi to deny Konoha one of its more useful tools? And so he’d been useful, very useful.

After that, it had been—Kakashi won’t lie and say he didn’t have friends. How could he say that, when there was Gai? There was always Gai. And after Gai, there’d be Genma, who would drag in Raidou, and Kakashi shudders to think what Anko might have done to him should he go down such a path. Eventually there had even been Asuma.

After that, it doesn’t even bear thinking about. His team . His precious students. Need he say any more?

It makes him uneasy, to be in a time where he doesn’t have any of that, to ground him. Where once Kakashi looked to find a balm to the constant sting of panic that thrums beneath his skin always, there is nothing but  strange emptiness that throws Kakashi so off-kilter he sometimes isn’t sure how he’s standing. He has been increasingly uneasy with every breath he takes the longer that this new reality sinks into his head. Orochimaru has been a help, simply because he and his frankly unpsychotic behavior and stiff politeness is startlingly new to Kakashi. It's not something he’d ever experienced before, and Kakashi is truthful enough inside his own head to admit that it may be the one thing holding him upright. His brain isn’t sure how to take it. It doesn’t fit with what had actually happened in Kakashi’s past childhood— Orochimaru doesn’t fit with any memory Kakashi has of the man. And that’s good. Kakashi can cling to that.

But grief doesn’t just go away. It’s a permanent stench. It seeps into the skin and settles there like it’s just another biological layer, the griefidermus.

Kakashi never learnt how to handle it properly. Most days, when his students did their adorable antics and pestered him to pass along his knowledge, and fought with each other, and grinned pure sunshine at him, punched through a tree with her bare fist, or nonchalantly contemplated an enemy’s murder, Kakashi could ignore everything else.

It’s hard now. Kakashi doesn’t have any little genin—and then chunin and so on —to distract him, now. He’s in the deep end and doesn’t know how to swim, and the life buoy is sitting all the way in the other room drinking tea and reading a mysterious scroll.

A dark-haired boy slams the door to Kakashi’s apartment closed behind him, stomping across the room with a rather aggrieved scowl marring his face. Kakashi sits stock still as the boy hauls himself to a stop before him, and stabs a finger at his chest with an aborted, violent movement.

Ba-ka-shi ,” he grits out, shoulders trembling, and he must be really upset if he’s on the verge of tears like this. Obito didn’t usually cry when he was angry, just when he was sad, or hurt, or—well, any other emotion, really.

Kakashi swallows thickly, bringing up a hand to rub at his chest.

Rin glances over at him on concern from her seat beside him on the couch. She opens her mouth, with a slight frown, “U-Um, Obito—“

Obito’s finger collides with Kakashi’s chest, and he steamrolls right over her attempt. “What’s up with you playing hooky, lately, huh? I know you think you’re better than us somehow, or something—and you’re totally wrong, by the way!—but that’s no excuse to stop coming to training and abandon your team as if we won’t care, bastard !”

Kakashi stares at him with wide eyes.

Obito presses out a big breath, a bit too explosive to be a sigh, and crosses his arms over his chest with a great harrumph, eyeing him carefully. “Just because you’re ahead of us doesn’t mean—“

Kakashi was wrong. He’d thought, maybe, it wouldn’t be so bad. After all, he’s survived the first encounters with Pakkun and Minato-sensei, and even Rin. He’d thought he would be able to handle it. But, no. He really and truly can’t . There’s a white-hot feeling somewhat akin to terror climbing up his chest, and then his throat. There aren’t any friends nearby who understand to distract him with a well-placed mock-insult, or a story about how childish their students still are, or drive the conversation in a different direction without glancing at Kakashi at all. There aren’t any rambunctious and ambition-driven, prodigious teenagers to drape themselves over him and make a loud comment about how he hasn’t bought them lunch in a while, doesn’t he care whether or not that they were eating well enough anymore? There isn’t even a convenient life buoy nearby to crawl over to and hide behind.

Instead, there’s a high pitched sound, like Bisuke makes after he falls from the counter when Pakkun shoves him off—he realizes its coming from him , and Kakashi brings up both hands to bury his face into their trembling palms.

He hears a soft little gasp come from Rin. “Obito!” She snaps, and a line of heat presses into Kakashi’s side as she scoots closer to him in an awkward attempt to offer some sort of comfort.

“Uh?! Wha—“ the Uchiha stumbles over his syllables, and then his feet as he scrambles forward and ducks down to try and peer at Kakashi’s face.

“What the hel— I mean, are you— what’re you doing ?”

There’s a whoosh of wind, and a presence appears right behind Obito rather abruptly. Minato-sensei stares down at the three of them with an unreadable expression, before kneeling down and putting a careful arm around Kakashi’s shaking shoulders, drawing the boy in toward his chest.

“What happened?”

“Obito made Kakashi-kun cry ,” Rin tattles. Her voice carries a heated accusatory tone that Kakashi’s can’t remember ever hearing her direct at anyone before.

“I’m not crying,” Kakashi denies immediately. The words come out sounding like he’s got a cold, and he leans in to press his face into Minato’s shoulder. A hand comes up to settle on his back comfortingly.

“Obito?” Their sensei asks, with his Serious voice that he typically only used for lectures on the darker side of shinobi life, when he wanted them to listen carefully and not take the subject lightly.

Obito sounds shaky when he replies, like he’s the one who’s crying. “I’m—I don’t know , sensei! I was just—I was asking him—I was….”

He trails off, face twisted into one of deep contemplation warring with objection, and then asks in a subdued voice, “He must really be sick. Like, really sick, isn’t he?”

Minato is silent for a moment, and they just stand there without speaking, all of them listening to the sniffles and quiet sobs that Kakashi is desperately trying to smother before they can make it out, because Kami this is fucking embarrassing . He burrows further into his teacher’s arms, frustrated with the fact that he’s unable to keep his own body from shaking like a leaf in autumn, and is suddenly just dumbfounded by the simple fact that he can do this .

He can actually do this. Sensei is here for Kakashi to touch, and interact with, and talk to, and listen to, and he’s there , alive, because Kakashi hasn’t fucked up yet. Minato-sensei is here in the room with him, holding him, and Kakashi can feel the warmth of his body, can feel the breaths that exit his lungs flutter across the hair on the top of his head.

His throat closes up, and the next sob that manages to squeeze out sounds particularly strangled. Kakashi’s shoulders hunch, and his palms dig into his eye sockets, but he leans his entire body into Minato-sensei and tries his best to dig himself a place right inside all of that blessed warmth that the man produces just by being there.

“What exactly did you say to him?” Sensei finally asks, and there’s a bout of pregnant silence, where Obito squirms uncomfortably and Rin levels him with a hard stare where she says nothing, but condemns him without words.

Obito eventually caves, “I was just… I was just asking him why he was gone from training.”

“You know it was because he’s sick, Obito, I told you both that at the beginning of the week.”

“But, it’s been too long!” The Uchiha explodes. “He never misses training, and suddenly he’s gone for days in a row? I’ve seen him train with bronchitis before, sensei! If he’s out now , with whatever he has, he should be in the hospital ! What if he’s dying ?”

Rin speaks up, then, before Minato can reply, and she still sounds upset with Obito, but her voice is quiet.

“You didn’t say that. You came bursting in here and accusing him of faking it.”

Obito ,” Minato sensei begins, aghast, and Obito’s shoulders go up to his ears, but Rin isn’t finished.

“And then ,” she scowls, “sensei, he… Obito. Tell sensei what you said.”

Obito squawks, limbs flailing. His face is pale when Kakashi peeks out from between his fingers, but his vision is too blurry to make much else out.

“Wh— but, Rin ! I know what I said was bad, okay? I’m—I’m sorry , I won’t do it again, it’s just—“

Minato is calm, but firm, when he asks, “Obito?”

They stand there, suffering through another long moment, and Kakashi feels imaginary fingers tightening around his throat and chest for every single second in which nobody says anything. He balls up his hands, knuckles going white, and shoves himself away from Minato-sensei with a weak push. Sensei’s arms are grounding, but hesitant, and so they fall away easily.

Minato blinks at him in surprise, and there’s that worried little crinkle in between his brows as he stares at him, mouth turned downwards.

“Kakashi?”

Kakashi shakes his head, unable to articulate just how undeserving he really is of all this concern that they’re heaping at him. He spins around almost drunkenly when another presence comes up on his left, and finds himself staring from under damp lashes to find an equally silent Orochimaru looking down at him.

He has barely three seconds for his mind to identify the man before he finds himself cradled securely in the snake sannin’s arms.

Kakashi considers the possibility that this may just be an alternate universe, when his only reaction is to curl inward and plaster himself against the man’s chest, arms wrapping around his neck and face smooshed into the crook of his shoulder, but he’s just so fucking relieved to be lifted out of the churning waves. For a second, he can just breathe , and the sensation of feeling air enter his burning lungs is enough to make Kakashi tear up anew.

Kakashi is beginning to realize, just today, that he hasn’t really known Orochimaru at all, even back in his proper time. To see the man, in a village that is still very much Orochimaru's home, acting like he hadn’t been broken down and starved, created into the raging mess of trauma and betrayal and hurt and misplaced not-understanding that he’d been up until mid-war—it was an eye opener to find that, in the end, Orochimaru was human, too. Just like Kakashi, and everyone else.

Orochimaru is a familiar face that doesn’t invoke all that many nightmarish memories for Kakashi, personally, and it seems that the safety the man’s presence promises is a successful balm to the childish emotions that tumble about with all the grace of a drunken toddler within his tiny seven-year old body.

He’s still choking on his own breaths, but the hand Orochimaru splays over his back and across his shoulder blades, does a lot more to calm him down than Kakashi ever would have imagined.

“I said…” a small voice speaks up from somewhere beneath and away from Kakashi, and they all turn to look at Obito, who’s wringing the hem of his shirt in between his hands. “I said that… just because he thinks he’s better than us, is… isn’t an excuse to… to… abandon his team and just n-not show up … and….”

“... Oh, Obito ,” Minato says, and his voice is so thick with all sorts of feelings , including some sort of realization, that Kakashi brings his arms back from around Orochimaru neck just to press his hands over his ears.

It’s nice, actually, sitting there in that little bubble of silence, when all he hears is the blood rushing inside his own body, and all he feels is the gentle up and down motion of Orochimaru’s chest as the man breaths. He’s not sure how much time passes, but when he opens his eyes a little, he finds that Orochimaru's moved them both to the couch, and the other members of his team have vanished. He sits up a bit glancing around, and removes his hands from his ears when he isn’t able to find them in the sitting room at all. His pulse fades from his ears after a few long moments, and he’s just able to hear a soft murmuring coming from the kitchen.

Kakashi sniffs, loudly, trying to clear up his sinuses. He feels like he has a head cold—or at least a worse one than before—and regrets ever drinking water at all as he rubs a weary hand across both eyes to wipe away the dampness.

He’s kind of useless, he realizes. If the others had gotten this miraculous, kami-given second chance, he’s pretty sure they’d have halfway saved the planet by now. Naruto would have brought about world peace, or something of a similar magnitude, Sakura would have had all the villages getting along simply through pure force and screeching—he loves that girl but she has definitely got some banshee blood somewhere in her family tree—lectures. Sasuke… Kakashi isn’t sure, but a lot of people who deserved it would be dead, some through mysterious means and some decidedly not. Him, though? Kakashi’s been back maybe five days and all he’s done is throw up, potentially piss off Danzou, and cry like a baby.

He’s not certain, but he doesn’t think he’d ever cried even back when he was actually seven. His younger self is probably watching all of this from some higher plane of existence, or wherever he’d been punted off to when Kakashi took over their body, and thoroughly disgusted with him.

He isn’t sure. He just has this very distinct feeling that his past self is leveling a harshly judgemental look at him right now. It’s sort of uncomfortable. He thinks that, maybe, if he wasn’t so exhausted from being a fucking crybaby, he might level one back at the brat, because? Why couldn’t Kakashi just be a child when he was a child? Why’d he have to grow up so fast? Kakashi’s been an adult since what feels like age three, and that… just isn’t fair. Is it? Even Itachi had that childhood phase, short as it might have been, where he sat around and played some games, maybe, cried a bit when he was upset, and got to hang from his mother’s arms. Kakashi knows, because he watched him do it. Even then, ANBU had had special interests in keeping an eye on the Uchiha.

Kakashi pauses at the thought. There’s something to be pondered there, later, but right now Kakashi isn’t really sure he has the time or the energy to really unpack all of that, and the potential exhausting contemplation that trying to figure out, not only the causation, but the solution to the village’s prejudice against the Uchiha is something Kakashi really needs to schedule ahead of time. Because that could take months just trying to untangle all those threads.

He blinks, and it feels like it takes a whole minute to complete the action. When he’s done, he looks to the left a bit and finds Orochimaru sitting calmly, one arm wrapped around Kakashi to hold him in place while the other hand is occupied by the scroll he’s been busy with all day. Kakashi watches him read for a while, eyes roving over the quietly content expression the man is wearing on his face. He shifts down a bit to lean into the snake sannin’s side, propping his cheek against his shoulder, and asked quietly, “What are you reading?”

Glittering gold eyes slant over to observe him with careful precision. Kakashi thinks he should be feeling like some sort of bug being held under a microscope, but instead another warm feeling erupts inside his chest. He’s beginning to think he’s worse than sick because, life buoy or not, he’s had the feeling way too often when around this Orochimaru for Kakashi’s poor mind to even begin to understand.

Finally, the man’s gaze returns to the scroll, and he says, “Research on the intricacies of the chakra pathways that wind inside our bodies.”

Kakashi gives a slow, long blink. “... Okay. Is it interesting?”

“Any knowledge that gives one a better understanding of their own self and that of other peoples’ is knowledge worth having, don’t you think?”

“Oh,” He can’t say he’d ever given it much thought, but… “That makes sense. Learning anything new?”

Something about his question makes the corner of Orochimaru’s mouth tick up in that odd smile. “Possibly. I do already understand the overarching concepts, but this scroll goes better in depth of a more obscure study.”

“Like what?”

Orochimaru settled back against the back couch cushions. Kakashi’s head swims at the sudden, if miniscule, drop, and he turns to press his forehead into the man’s shoulder and close his eyes to wait out the dancing spots in his vision. He almost misses Orochimaru’s arm tightening around him.

“Oftentimes, a ninja is fine with knowing the bare minimum about the source of their own life and power—that it is what keeps them alive, it is separated into two distinct halves of a whole, and that when they shape it with their minds and their hands it can do wondrous tricks and bend even the elements to their will. In the end, that is all about chakra that is much relevant to the minds of the common shinobi.”

Kakashi opens his eyes and sits up again, sucking in a shuddering breath. Orochimaru isn’t looking at him, eyes roving over the scroll in front of him, but there’s a displeased tilt to his mouth now.

“On the other hand, it seems rather dimwitted to not attempt to divulge the secrets and gain a deeper understanding of the very thing that is so prevalent in the lives of everything that draws breath—and some beside that—on the face of the earth, doesn’t it?”

“It does,” Kakashi finds himself replying thoughtfully. “Is that your main focus of study, then?”

Orochimaru gives him a strange look, but it doesn’t feel like he’s offended or anything, so Kakashi is pretty sure he didn’t just put his foot in his mouth. Like, seventy-five percent sure. He lets the scroll roll closed and sets it on the side table, adjusting his hold on Kakashi to sit them both up a bit. There’s something in his eyes that Kakashi cannot for the life of himself read.

“Among other things,” he replies, slowly, gaze locked on Kakashi’s face as if searching for clues to something. “I do try my best not to let myself become enamoured with just one subject. I feel that it cripples my intelligence, and lets the mind dull.”

Kakashi stares up at him, and belatedly makes a soft ‘aha’ noise when he realizes Orochimaru might be waiting for him to respond in turn. His mind is swirling with too many thoughts, but this serves as a great distraction, and now he’s gone off several bunny trails pondering the philosophy behind the human brain.

That same small, closed-lip smile crosses orochimaru’s face as he watches him, and the man carefully sets him to his side, on his own cushion. “Your question was a little peculiar, I must admit. Do you find yourself hyperfocusing on one single line of thought often?”

“Mm,” Kakashi says, gaze unfocused. He gives his head a little shake, careful not to let the motion disturb the soup inside of his skull that his brain has been of late, and leans himself back into a pillow. “I think so.”

And he does. Kakashi is, of course, a well trained shinobi, capable of a very high level of situational awareness—it was a necessity, in their line of work, and yet some were still better than it than others. Kakashi will admit that he is, at most, leaning toward the higher end of average at making sure not to let himself become distracted in the midst of battle.

Outside of battle, however… well, it’s not to say that Kakashi’s got his head in the clouds, of course not, he’s better than that . But there are times when his ever-roving brain latches onto something and he gets lost among the thoughts that it generates.

It’s honestly how he’d lost so much of his time in front of the memorial stone, back when he’d been an adult. He’d never once actually intended to go to the monument past the first few visits when he’d been a teenager, and get every so often he’s blink, and get lost in his own head, and when he opened his eyes he was staring at the names of most of the people in his life that he’d failed.

It had scared him. Even back then. He didn’t do it as much after becoming a jounin-sensei, if only because he’d never found enough time to wander around the twisting path of a long and perilous train of thought, being much too busy having his hands full with the lives of three little human aspiring ninja.

Even now, though, as he thinks on the honestly terrible bad habit of him, Kakashi feels… worry, or something much like it. How is he suppose to change the entire tide of the future itself if he was stuck inside his own head?

“Yeah,” he reiterates, tiredly. “I do.”

Orochimaru watches him with a quiet hanging in the air around them.

“Intelligence,” the man eventually says in a low voice as he makes to stand up from the couch, “if oftentimes a curse, more than it is a gift.”

He slides the scroll off the table and into one of his long sleeves, and disappears into the kitchen, causing the soft murmuring to cut off abruptly. Kakashi stares after him, and frowns.

Well, when put like that, Kakashi can’t find it in himself to argue. Nor, he thinks, does he actually want to.

 

 

 

. . .

 

Obito, you done fucked up boi