When he finds out about Minato-sensei’s death, Kakashi Hatake thinks, for a hot second, about killing himself.
It’s only understandable, after all. He has lost his father, both his teammates, and now his sensei, and he has barely turned fifteen. Falling into desperation would be the obvious path to follow, but the idea only briefly flashes on Kakashi’s mind. It is followed in rapid succession by the memory of the shame and pain his father’s suicide brought onto him- he wonders, also for only a second, if there would be someone to miss him the way he missed ( misses ) his father, but there are certain questions that are better left unanswered. After that, come to him Obito’s determined face and Rin’s smile. After that, he can only think about the last mission Minato-sensei trusted to him.
He dodges Gai’s well-meaning attempts to comfort him, and once the barrier is dropped, he leaves a shadow clone to keep the facade with the rest of the ANBU and marches towards the Hokage’s office, not a tear in sight. He has adopted Obito’s Ninja Way alright, but if it’s too late to save his comrades, he still gotta make sure that the mission gets completed.
He has to sit on the roof of the building for around six hours, the steady beating of his heart his only company before Hiruzen-sama comes to the office. Kakashi jumps to the ground in front of the door, cutting short his trajectory. The former Hokage looks tired and a lot older than the last time Kakashi saw him a couple days ago, but he does not seem surprised by Kakashi’s sudden presence.
It is either too late or really early, he is not sure at this point, and they have not slept in at least a couple of days, so he decides to go straight to the point, “Sandaime-sama, I came to take Naruto in.”
Hiruzen tilts his head to the side, considering him, and Kakashi stands the inspection unwaveringly.
“Why would you do that, Kakashi-san?”
Kakashi straightens up at the question, overly conscious of his bad posture and of how much his back hurts and his hands are shaking.
“Minato-sensei asked me to watch over his wife during her pregnancy. I failed to protect her, and for that, I apologize. But I would like to take care of Naruto now, to keep on with the mission my sensei wanted me to fulfill.”
Hiruzen gives him a sad half-smile and squeezes Kakashi’s shoulder.
“Go home and have a good night of sleep, kid.”
Kakashi moves to allow him to go inside the building, but doesn’t follow the advice and doesn’t go home.
He spends three uninterrupted days on the roof of the Hokage’s office until Hiruzen sticks his head out the window to look at him, utterly tired. He was warned by his ANBU no doubt, but none of them has said anything to Kakashi, and for that Kakashi is grateful. Hiruzen doesn’t beat around the bush on the matter of why Kakashi is still there, and he is also grateful for that.
“You do realize the child has the Kyuubi inside, don’t you?”
“So did Kushina and she did just fine.” It's the harshest he has ever been to a superior, let alone the Hokage, but sleeping on a roof for three days might do that to anyone, much more a grief-ridden teenager.
Hiruzen’s mouth twitches in something close to a smile. Close, but not quite.
“Fine.” He throws his arms on the air. “This goes beyond me. If you want to take the kid in, take him in. He is being taken care of by nurses at the hospital right now. I will let them know.”
Kakashi bows before leaving, but doesn't thank him.
Days later, when cleaning the terrace of the building, an abandoned ANBU mask is found there.
Saying that the first few days are hard would be an understatement.
Actually, this is a decision that Kakashi- fifteen years old and a lonely orphan- didn’t take lightly but did take on a whim, and that will make his life hard for as long as he lives. But during the first few days, Naruto cries for two-hours periods nonstop, and Kakashi feels like he will go out of his mind.
He always checks, but every time the baby isn’t hungry and he doesn't need his diaper changed and Kakashi has no idea why else he won't stop crying; he just sits there and rocks the baby in his cradle aimlessly until Naruto wears himself out crying and falls into a fitful slumber, feeling like he is living inside a torture genjutsu.
The fifteenth time it happens, Kakashi cannot find strength within himself to take him to the cradle his parents so lovingly chose for him; he just lifts up the baby, breaking down into tears himself. They cry together, Naruto's bawling head pressed tight against his chest for half an hour.
Somehow, he feels a bit better after they are done, and not only because Naruto is sleeping peacefully for a change. Apparently, it is beneficial for both babies and teens to receive physical affection. Uhm. Who would have known.
He becomes something of a hot commodity with the generation of his peers, who are old enough to know about the tailed beasts, but reckless enough to not be scared by them despite having seen live the consequences of the release of the Kyuubi.
At first, Kakashi is annoyed by the constant intromissions in his home; he is a reserved guy who has always taken care of himself and has grown to love silence and peace. Having another human being with him in his home- and a weepy one at that- is bad enough. He doesn't exactly appreciate the additional uninvited guests.
It takes him less than two weeks to accept- even if reluctantly- that he needs all the support he can get. It’s not easy to feed Naruto and change him and put him to sleep by his lonesome every day. It’s not easy to run errands with a newborn on your hip. Doing everything that implies caring for a baby is not easy on itself, and if you add on top of that having to do it alone and while sleep-deprived, well, those tasks become almost herculean.
After a month, he finds himself wanting his friends to come over so he can go take a nap while they watch over Naruto. The first time Gai tries to challenge him to something, anything, or you will become rusty, rival!, Kakashi replies, “Sure, let’s see who can hold the baby longer without getting tired. You go first.” He thrusts Naruto onto Gai’s chest and then proceeds to take his first hot shower in what feels like forever.
He gets assigned only in-village-missions that are laughable to his jōnin rank, but they are a gesture of good will from the re-appointed Hokage, a recognition of sorts of the other hard labor he is doing for the village. Kakashi doesn’t say anything; he does not thank him for the favor, because what’s the point, and he doesn’t complain, because he gotta provide for a baby now. They are missions either way, and that means having to leave the house for any time from between ten minutes and a couple of hours, and someone to watch over Naruto on the regular. When it comes to babysitting duties, Kurenai is always his choice to go: Naruto is more calmed and pliant after he has been with her. Kakashi is not entirely convinced she doesn't put him under a light, harmless genjutsu that takes a while to wear off, but, honestly? He can't do any better, so that has to do.
The first few months are challenging. They are a bunch of teenagers that know only about endurance and loss; Kakashi doesn't have a parent or a grandparent or even a sibling to give him any guidance. The adults that let him keep the baby don’t offer him any advice, and Kakashi doesn't ask them. The most reliable information he gets is from Anko’s older sister, who has a baby barely older than Naruto, and even that is third-hand information. The rest, they improvise.
A lot of mistakes are committed during those months. A lot of mistakes will be committed as long as Naruto lives, but sometimes that is just life. During those first months, Gai is to blame for most of the mistakes; Kakashi is to blame for all of them.
Naruto flourishes anyway, despite the mistakes and sometimes even because of them. Gai hangs him head down in a naive attempt to get him to grow taller, Kakashi takes him out in the sun without any protection, Asuma feeds him vegetables because vegetables are good for you health, right?
In this universe, Naruto doesn’t grow on a diet of instant ramen, budgeting to be able to afford food, but that doesn’t mean Kakashi raises him in the best possible way.
Kakashi just raises him the best way he knows, trying to be better than the Kakashi of the past, and that has to be enough.
Despite all that and more, Naruto grows and gurgles and smiles and endures, and Kakashi looks at him and thinks that he is definitely the son of shinobi.
Love for the baby doesn’t come to Kakashi at first sight, or at first week, or even at first month. He doesn’t love him in the unconditional way one should love a child, but that’s okay, because he is a fifteen-year-old shinobi, not a parent, and Naruto is not his son.
Sure, Kakashi feeds him and changes his diaper and rocks him until Naruto falls asleep and he tries his darndest best, but the baby for him is a chore, a task. He is a mission. Or so Kakashi tells himself.
It is better that way. It is easier. Getting attached only leads to loss and grief, Kakashi should know.
But when he is almost four months old, Naruto gets sick. The first night of bad sleep, Kakashi takes him to his own bed and cuddles the baby under the covers, trying to ease his discomfort away. Ever since the first days of full-time crying, Kakashi has restored to physical contact everytime Naruto needs something he is not able to decipher. It usually helps with whatever is happening to him at the moment, and he also has been told that human contact is good for his development, so win-win situation.
But during that night, he hears Naruto’s hoarse breathing and his weak heartbeat, and a sudden realization hits him: this baby is, well, alive. For anyone else, it must feel like it’s a stupid epiphany to have after four months of caring for a baby, but for Kakashi is terrifying. Naruto is not an it, he is a tiny human, with the Yondaime’s eyes and tiny whiskers, with small fists and a belly button. This baby is alive, and it’s Kakashi’s responsibility to keep him that way.
Naruto wakes up with a fever the next day. Kakashi is so paralyzed by shock and fear that he doesn’t react when the baby has trouble breathing and doesn’t even cry, just… wheezes. Luckily, Kurenai drops by to bring them some groceries, assess the situation quite quickly and manages it admiringly, taking Naruto to the hospital and yelling at Kakashi to meet them there as soon as he snaps out of whichever bad flash has got him lost.
It takes him five minutes after she leaves to realize that this is, in a way, similar to the war: if you freeze, you lose, and he can’t afford to lose on this. Neither of them can.
He won’t lose on this.
He goes to the hospital faster than he has gone anywhere else ever in his life.
He waits in the hospital for half an hour that feels like forever, his senses too numb to feel that Kurenai is holding his hand. When the doctors bring Naruto back, assuring Kakashi that is nothing serious, just a cold turned bad, Kakashi nods like an automaton. He will be grateful later that Kurenai is taking careful notes of everything the doctor is telling him, because right now he can only ponder the weight of Naruto- still worryingly warm, but at least breathing normally- on his arms, and realize that it doesn’t matter that he is not his son; he would have died if anything had happened to him, and that is the only form of love Kakashi knows.
Naruto helps him learn more tender forms of love, with time.
Chubby hands holding onto his legs for balance.
Pakkun’s snout being lovely crushed between infant hands.
Good night stories and good morning kisses and something warm filling a void Kakashi didn’t even know he owned.
Kakashi realizes that Naruto has problems controlling his chakra influx by the time he is barely a year old. Maybe he notices because he has always been a little obsessive. Maybe it’s the Sharingan that helps him. He’d rather not think about it.
Hiruzen explains something about the Kyuubi and its seal hindering Naruto’s access to his own chakra but doesn’t offer any concrete solutions. Kakashi ponders over it for a while and finally decides to tackle Gai the next time he is visiting.
“You are in charge of training Naruto till he starts the Academy.”
Gai rubs his hands in joy, but it takes him all of five seconds to realize that there is something weird with that.
“Why not you, rival?”
Kakashi shrugs and turns around to stir the casserole.
“He will be fed up with me in no time if I take charge of everything in his life,” he explains in his usual drawly tone. “Besides, you are the best when it comes to perseverance and working against nature, Gai.” He can feel the intensity of Gai’s eyes boring holes on his back, but he doesn’t want to deal with a heartfelt, purple-prosed declaration of friendship-slash-rivalry, so when Gai comes too close to have anything but a hug on his intentions, Kakashi thrusts a wooden spoon filled with sauce on his face. “Here, try this.”
When Naruto turns two, Kakashi takes him to the village’s playground for the first time, against the advice of all the council of elders, who believe that out of sight means out of mind.
People look at them weirdly, and Kakashi just leans against a tree with a book and lets Naruto throw around sand to his heart’s content. People whisper and don’t let their children near Naruto, and Kakashi, seventeen years and angry, seventeen years and so very tired, considers using the fact that he outranks most of these petty parents to bully them into letting their children play with Naruto. He finally decides against it. They are not worth his anger, much less his time, and Naruto looks delighted enough when Kakashi bends down and uses small electric pulses to make the sand dance around him.
When everyone else has gone home, a little because of the hour, a lot because they are still there, Kakashi makes a handful of shadow clones to play hide and seek with Naruto.
They go back to the playground the next week anyway.
(Time will give Naruto a pink-haired girl that is too shy and too loyal for her own good, and a tiny girl with lilac eyes that carries- like him- a burden too heavy for her small shoulders.
Time will give him a boy with anger too deep for his small bones to handle, but in this universe, Naruto won’t know how to relate to his loneliness, only how to feel sadness for his wounds.
Time will give him a boy with a brain that runs too fast for his body to catch up, and a boy with a full belly and a fuller heart, and a girl with a kind smile and sharp eyes.
Time will give him rivals and friends, sometimes both, sometimes neither, and they all will leave a strong imprint in his life and an important lesson in his heart.
Time will give Naruto all of them and more, but until then, he has Pakkun, and he has Gai, and Kurenai, and Asuma, and Anko, and most of all, he has Kakashi.)
At two and a half, Naruto goes through a mask-obsessed phase. He wears everywhere, even to bed, an ANBU mask Asuma gave to him as a gift. Kurenai tries to talk him out of it, but Kakashi puts his foot down on that. Either the kid will grow out of it or he won’t. He doesn’t mind particularly which will be the outcome.
That is one of the few times Kakashi sees Kurenai legitimately angry.
“Don’t you see that he is doing it because of you, Kakashi? He admires you as all hell, and wants to be like you.” He frowns slightly but doesn't have time to say that he doesn’t see anything wrong with that before she keeps going. “But he is carrying enough whispers on his back as it is, what with being who he is, and with who you are and who you were as an ANBU, too. Can’t we help him be the tiniest bit normal, at least on this?”
Kakashi crosses his arms in front of his chest, wishing he was having this conversation with Gai, and not with Kurenai. Gai he can handle, but Kurenai is a lot more down to earth than the rest of them all put together, and that makes him feel raw and uncomfortable.
“We are a village of shinobi. Since when masks are so controversial?”
She sighs, and for the first time, Kakashi realizes that when he decided to take Naruto in, that decision affected not only his life and Naruto’s, but also the life of everyone around him.
“Precisely because we are a village of shinobi we don’t ease into trusting if we can help it.”
When Naruto turns three, he asks about his parents for the first time. Well, he asks about parents, in general.
“Kashi, are you my dad?”
Kakashi chokes on his tea, and Naruto looks at him with his big blue eyes while he sputters for a long time. Around Naruto, nobody has used that term to refer to him, maybe because it’s not true, maybe because everyone involved with his life still remembers the Yondaime too vividly. Naruto must have picked it up from other children.
He had not made plans for when or how to tell him the story, but the same way he has winged everything related to Naruto so far, he will have to wing this.
He sits Naruto on his lap- Naruto is getting bigger, but Kakashi is still getting taller, and it is good that they are growing together-, and ponders over summoning Pakkun to help him with the hardest parts, and to pull focus a little, too. He finally decides against it because this is something that should be between just the two of them.
“There was once a couple who loved their baby very much…”
He does not tell him about the Kyuubi, not yet. He wants Naruto’s training with Gai to be more advanced before he drops that kind of information on top of everything.
Sometimes, still, always, Kakashi dreams about Rin.
It’s not an unusual occurrence, and he has learned how to cope with it for the most part; but for every ten times he can put on a stern face, there is one when he can’t. On hard days the flashbacks and the guilt are so strong he can not get up from the bed. Sometimes he can drag himself out of it long enough to phone Gai and ask him to take Naruto for a jog, or a dango, preferably both.
Other times, he can’t even do that. On those days, Naruto curls up on the bed with him, cries a little but mostly worries about his silence, feeds him grapes under his mask and tells him made up stories and jokes that Anko told him, and reminds Kakashi that he is alive, alive, alive.
On other, better, merrier, nights- though Naruto is getting too big for this and Kakashi tries to be as stern as he can with him- Naruto just climbs into his lap while he is trying to read and keeps him distracted with questions.
On one of those nights, he strokes his chubby finger across Kakashi’s tattoo, frowning slightly.
“What is this, Kashi?”
Kakashi- one hand holding his book open, the other lazily petting Naruto’s head- looks down like he doesn’t remember what Naruto is talking about, and freezes for an instant at the sight of his own tattoo.
So far he has not lied to Naruto about anything that could be helped, and he is not going to start breaking that rule now, but something heavy settles in his stomach at the idea of Naruto knowing about all the blood that is dripping from his hands.
Someday he will have to learn how to live with that, but today is not that day, and so Kakashi deflects.
“It means I was once a part of a special group of shinobi.”
Naruto gives him one of his over-excited grins that make Kakashi’s heart grow ten times its size, but this time his throat just feels like sandpaper.
“That’s because you are so great, Kashi!” He sits on the couch, bouncing on his knees, and Kakashi moves his hand from his head to his side to prevent him from falling. “I want to be just like you when I grow up!”
There are so many feelings to be untangled from that statement, warnings to be made, advise to be given, sorrows to be had, but Naruto is not even four and he has a chocolate smear on one cheek and a serious case of bedhead, so Kakashi tumbles him down on the couch gently and starts tickling him mercilessly.
It takes all of ten minutes of a tickle war for Naruto to give up and fall asleep, exhausted, face-first on the couch. Kakashi carries him to his bed, all fluffed up between his stuffed toys that Gai and Asuma seem incapable of stop buying for him, and leans down to kiss his forehead.
“Let’s only hope you are better than me, kiddo.”
When Naruto is days away from getting enrolled in the Academy, Jiraiya-sama shows on Kakashi’s doorstep with a selection of Icha-Icha books- how old are you, kid? Not even twenty, am I right? I imagine you don’t have many chances of having fun with a child this small, if you know what I mean - and a book about Naruto’s namesake.
“He can’t read yet," Kakashi tells the old Sannin while grabbing the offered book. He sounds more defensive than he intended, but so far everything they have tried to teach Naruto how to read has failed, and became-chunin-at-six-years-old Kakashi doesn't know much about what are reasonable expectations for a child's development, but everything Naruto can't do feels like a failure on his part. Asuma has been teaching him how to play shōgi instead, and Naruto can’t read the tiles but recognizes them, and though he is not really good at sitting still for too long, they have been making progress with that. “But I will read it to him.”
Jiraiya-sama nods distractedly and looks around for Naruto, and Kakashi leaves for the kitchen to not intrude on the first meeting between the two of them.
He should feel happy that someone else who cares about Naruto has shown up, maybe even relieved that he can stop pretending that he knows what he is doing, that he was in any way ready to take on all the responsibilities caring for a child entailed. Instead, all his nerves are standing on end, and he fills the teapot with green tea loose-leaves because he feels like he is about to throw up.
When he comes back with the tea service and a dish full of his mean honey cookies, Jiraiya-sama is whispering something on Naruto’s ear, and both of them start roaring with laughter two seconds after. Kakashi, nineteen years and five foot eleven of bad posture, has never felt more insignificant in his entire life. He sits down and watches carefully the way Naruto looks at Jiraya with suns in his eyes and tries to swallow down his tea though his stomach is full of lead.
But when Naruto’s nap time approaches, he climbs onto Kakashi’s lap, and rubs his nose against his vest, yawning and clutching at his sides, until Kakashi stands up to take him to bed.
“I can take him if you want,” offers Jiraiya.
“No need.” He is not sure if Jiraiya just means ‘to bed’, or if he means it in a broader sense. Either way, his reply is the same.
He watches the relief passing across the face of this man old enough to be Naruto’s grandfather- maybe even old enough to be Kakashi’s grandfather-, says nothing and takes Naruto to bed.
The first day he leaves Naruto at the Academy, it feels just like one of the days when the guys babysit him, so Kakashi uses the free time to train and clean the house, and get ahead on the weekly chores.
The second day feels... strangely empty. He would not say it in so many words, but he has not realized how empty his life really was before Naruto, he can only see it clearly now that he is mourning the fullness Naruto gave him. He could take longer missions now, and regain a little of his old life back, but he finds himself looking at one of the many frames Gai- always the sentimental one- gifted him with a picture of Kakashi pushing Naruto in a swing, and he realizes he doesn’t want his old life back.
On the third day, the Sandaime comes to his door.
Kakashi lets him in because it’s the polite thing to do, and Hiruzen paces his tiny living room leisurely, and hums approvingly while holding the picture frame that gave Kakashi the feels the day before. He does not comment or ask anything about Naruto, though, and Kakashi doesn’t offer any information.
“I imagine you will join back the ANBU now,” is, finally, the way he starts the conversation.
Kakashi leans against the doorframe, legs crossed at the ankles, and takes his sweet time to reply.
“No, I will not.”
Somehow, Sandaime doesn’t look surprised, only very tired and to that, Kakashi can relate.
“Because I don’t need to.”
“Konohagakure needs a shinobi of your talent, Kakashi-san. That’s the only reason you need.”
He picks the picture frame from between the Hokage’s hands, his long, slender fingers building up a wall between them.
“I’m sorry, Sandaime-sama. My reply hasn’t changed.”
One month into Naruto’s run at the Academy, Kakashi runs into his teacher at a place as inane as the grocery store, Naruto at his side pestering him to buy more sweets than he is allowed to eat on an entire week. Iruka first tousles Naruto’s head affectionately and then shakes Kakashi’s hand, full of enthusiasm. Kakashi’s first impression of him is that he is glad this boy- who looks barely older than he was when he took Naruto in- went into teaching, because his heart is not hard enough to be a field shinobi.
“It’s such an honor to meet you, Kakashi-sama.” He is soft-spoken too, and Kakashi waits for the blow of being reminded of his past on that soothing voice. Luckily, life still got a few surprises in store for him. “You did a great job with Naruto.”
He can only nod at that, flustered, and stays on his spot while Iruka picks up his bag and leaves, and though he has had five years full of amazing rewards- and can only hope there is a lot more in his future-, somehow being recognized by the right people feels like a caress, too.
“Kashi, can we buy a bag of chips? No, better two bags of chips! Three! Four! Do you know I have a classmate that has his bag full of chips? That is awesome! Can I have a bag full of chips to take to school, Kashi, please? Please?”
He shakes his head absentmindedly at Naruto’s disorderly chatter and takes out items of his basket at the same pace that Naruto throws them in. He is feeling emotional, though, so he scratches behind Naruto’s ear, in the spot he always uses to demonstrate affection and pulls him back down to Earth.
“One bag of chips, okay? Just one. And you will set the table all by yourself tonight!”
“Woohoo!” Naruto throws his arms in the air like he has just been informed of a big victory, and runs excitedly to the end of the aisle. “Kashi, you are the best!”
Kakashi shakes his head, but the corner of his mouth ticks up under his mask.
No, kiddo, you are.