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It’s not as if Kakashi expects to come in Tuesday morning to the report that the entire eastern wing of T & I has been destroyed, but he can't exactly say he’s surprised, either.

“It didn’t work?” he asks, lifting the top page of the report. It’s…extensive.

Ibiki blows out a long breath through his nose. His eyebrows have ceased to exist, and there's still a faint layer of ash dusted across his bandana. “It didn’t work,” he confirms, and on anyone else that tone might be chagrined. “The thing in him took exception to the Raiton we tried last.”

Something itches under Kakashi’s skin, but he pushes it down, ignores it. “And nothing before that?”

Ibiki shakes his head. “Nothing before that worked,” he says, frustrated. “Blades just…bounce off. And if there's a poison that will even make him dizzy, we didn’t manage to find it.”

“Hmm.” Quickly, Kakashi flips to the last page, skimming over the irritated slant of Ibiki's conclusion, and then closes it again. He doesn’t need to know the specifics yet; that can come later. For now all he needs is the outline. “Where is he?”

It’s possible relief shades across Ibiki's face. “Solitary, very end of the wing. We wanted him as far from the village as possible.”

Kakashi isn't entirely sure what difference they thought that would make, but he doesn’t protest, just rises to his feet. “Tenzō should be in the Standby Station,” he says. “He can get the building rebuilt once you have the area clear.”

“Sir.” Ibiki inclines his head, then turns on his heel and leaves. Kakashi listens to the sound of his boots retreating down the stairs before he carefully neatens the pile of papers on his desk, collects his flak jacket, and leaves the office, letting the door swing softly shut behind him.

“Any messages?” he asks Shizune, and she startles, rises sharply.

“Not yet, sir,” she returns, and hesitates. “I—there's a postcard from Tsunade-sama, but…”

“If you write her back, tell her to drink a bottle of sake for me,” Kakashi tells her. “Is she enjoying her vacation?”

Shizune makes a face. “The postcard smells like booze, so I assume so.”

Some people have all the luck, what with having ready-made successors who are old enough for them to dump the Hokage hat on, Kakashi reflects. He’d try the same thing, since he is in just as desperate a need for a vacation as Tsunade, but Naruto is the only one who really wants the hat and has the power level to back up his claim, and he and Sasuke are wandering somewhere in the north of Wind Country right now.

“I assume she didn’t say anything about when she’ll be back?” he asks without much hope. If he was in Tsunade's shoes, he’d stay as far from the village as possible for at least a year. If she does come back, Kakashi plans to abdicate and name her his successor, and then probably bolt for the nearest mountain range he can put between them.

“Sorry, sir,” Shizune says wryly, and Kakashi sighs dramatically but waves goodbye as he heads down the stairs. As he goes, a shadow falls into step with him, one pace behind but perfectly in time, and Kakashi casts a look at his guard and raises a brow.

“Doesn’t the commander of the Guard Platoon have better things to do than take shifts with the peons?” he asks pointedly.

Genma grins at him, all teeth. “I'm not sure if you're aware of this, Hokage-sama,” he drawls, “but guarding your tricky ass isn't exactly a hotly demanded position. You’re lucky I have enough blackmail on people to mostly fill the guard roster, or I’d be taking all the shifts.”

“My ass,” Kakashi says virtuously, “is perfect, and you're just jealous.”

“If you say so, Hokage-sama.” Genma has a particular talent for making it feel like he’s won an argument even when he clearly has no leg to stand on. Kakashi gives him a wary look, but Genma just smiles smugly and falls back, disappearing into a shadow as they emerge from the quiet Administration Building into the even quieter street. There are a handful of shinobi around, a knot of teachers in a sleepy huddle by the front doors of the Academy, and one or two civilians, but not a lot of other people awake.

When Kakashi glances over the village, there's a curl of smoke rising from the direction of the T & I building, and Kakashi sighs, rubs at the back of his head, and leaps up onto the rooftop of the closest building. From there, a string of simple shunshin carries him to the edge of the village, then over the wall.

Konoha's prison is a looming building set back against the curve of the mountain, and it’s always heavily guarded, but Kakashi has never seen quite so many ANBU teams circling its walls. The two pairs guarding the outside of the main gate come to attention as he approaches, but don’t let him in until both Hyuuga in the group have checked him for illusions. They do the same for Genma as he follows, and then open one of the small, iron-barred doors and let them in.

Kakashi doesn’t like being here very much, even though he’s had his share of rotations here. It’s not punishment duty, but it’s the drudgery that every ANBU member has to go through to work their way up through the ranks, and it’s an aggravating mix of slow and tense that Kakashi has never cared for. He likes being here today even less, though, and from the look of it, the squads guarding the prison aren’t all that much happier about their assignments.

Then again, Kakashi supposed that being asked to keep the most powerful and dangerous man in the world from tearing stone like rice paper and walking right out over their corpses probably isn't a popular mission by any means.

“Sir,” Yūgao says in greeting as he approaches the prison’s main door. She bows, then swings the door open to let him in, and follows him into the shadowed gloom of heavy stone and too few windows.

“Any problems?” Kakashi asks, tucking his hands into his pockets.

With her mask in the way, he can't see the face Yūgao pulls, but from the tone of her voice she’s definitely making one. “Not yet, but I have six squads in the wing, and we moved all of the prisoners who were there to the abandoned cell block for now. We didn’t want to give him possible hostages.”

Kakashi doesn’t bother pointing out that there’s practically no chance that taking hostages would work. Not those hostages, and definitely not this man. “Good,” he says instead. “Make sure squads get rotated out every four hours. I don’t want anyone on shift for more than six hours at the most.”

“Of course, sir.” Yūgao nods to the squad posted at the entrance to the solitary wing, and they salute in return, perfectly silent as they let Kakashi pass. The hall past them is practically crowded with the number of ANBU waiting, all of them as tense as koto strings and looking one loud noise away from descending into all-out war, but they settle back when Kakashi waves a lazy hello.

“Yo,” he says, and sees at least one stiff body ease slightly. Maybe shifts should go down to three hours. They don’t have quite the manpower for that, though, not with so many people still recovering from the war. This isn't anything close to a long-term solution, either; Ibiki was supposed to have that, but judging by the near-vaporization of half the building, it’s going to be something of a work in progress.

The door of the very last cell is wrapped in more seals than Kakashi has seen on anything, ever, and it takes Yūgao and her second at least five minutes to peel their way through all the layers without setting anything off. As the last one falls away, Kakashi is braced for a blast of monstrous chakra, a surge of killing intent, but it never comes. There aren’t any words, either; the interior of the cell is perfectly quiet except for the creak of the hinges as the door swings open.

“Wait here,” Kakashi says, to Genma as much as the hovering ANBU. “I won't be long.”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea, Hokage-sama,” Yūgao says doubtfully, and trades a glance with Genma as he settles back against the wall, frowning around his senbon.

“I'm insulted by the implication that I've ever had a good idea in my life,” Kakashi says airily, and steps past them without waiting for an answer. The door swings shut behind him, so he takes that as a sign he’s won the argument, which is enough for now.

The cell is small, entirely bare except for an iron stake embedded in the wall, a glowing loop of chain that ends at a collar so covered in seals Kakashi can't tell that there's even metal underneath. Kakashi lets his gaze drift over off-white scales, spines, the stark marks of black magatama set into eerily pale skin. No shirt, though this form looks more streamlined, without the folds of scales hanging down like a draping robe. Just a man’s bare chest, scars turned to deliberate markings, ragged black pants that fall over bare feet.

His toenails are black. His fingernails, too. Kakashi hadn’t noticed that during the fighting.

“I hear you blunted Ibiki's favorite axe,” he says lightly, and doesn’t bother taking his hands out of his pockets.

Obito turns his head, pulling his gaze away from the thin slit in the top of the wall that’s letting in the room’s only natural light. His skin is glowing faintly, but Kakashi isn't sure that counts as anything close to natural.

“At least we didn’t break it,” he offers, giving Kakashi a faint, wry smile. “That second to last poison, though—that almost made us queasy for a few seconds. We’re impressed.”

“I’ll be sure to let Ibiki know.” Kakashi sweeps another look over him, assessing the heavy manacles around his wrists, the way he has his hands resting motionless in his lap. Carefully nonthreatening, he thinks, though nothing else about Obito right now is nonthreatening. “How’s the food?”

Obito shakes his head, though he doesn’t seem bothered. “They don’t feed me. I think they want to see if starvation or dehydration will work.”

Something turns in Kakashi’s chest, precise and careful, but he refuses to acknowledge it. “Will it?”

“No.” The answer is quiet, but definitive. “Natural chakra is all we need.”

The switch means something, Kakashi assumes. I think, compared to we need. Something to consider, maybe.

“And Raiton won’t work either,” he says, testing.

Just for an instant, something flickers beneath Obito's skin, something bigger, darker than his body should be able to contain. It’s gone in an instant, though, and he looks down at his hands, curls his fingers.

“We’re sorry about Ibiki's building,” he says, though he doesn’t quite sound it. And then, “I didn’t think the objection would be that…strong.”

“We’re getting it rebuilt,” Kakashi promises, and isn't sure if it’s a reassurance or a threat.

Obito's crooked smile says he knows which, even if Kakashi isn't willing to decide. “Was anyone hurt?” he asks.

For a long moment, Kakashi isn't sure how to answer that. Isn't sure if he wants to, either. Finally, though, he offers, “Nothing more serious than splinters.”

Obito's shoulders slump just a little, and even though Kakashi is looking for disappointment, wants to find it in a masochistic sort of way, all he can see if relief. “Good,” Obito says. “We don’t—we don’t want to hurt anyone. We just don’t want to die.”

It takes a moment for Kakashi to be able to find his voice. “I think it’s a little late for you to worry about that sort of thing,” he says flatly. “Both of you.”

Obito smiles, and it’s a sad, pretty thing. No one would ever know about the monster inside of him. More than one monster, even. He lifts his hands, turning them in the shackles, and spreads them open like a supplication. “We changed,” he says. “If humans are allowed to do it, we thought we should at least try.”

Humans, like he isn't one of them anymore. Kakashi’s lungs don’t quite want to work right. “If you want to be like a human, you need to be judged as one,” he says, and the words rasp in his throat. “And you’ve been judged guilty of a lot of things. The punishment is execution.”

There's a shift, subtle, shocking. Obito falls away, and what rises to replace him is perfectly, awfully alien even as it stares out of familiar eyes. “But I'm not human,” it says, and there's a doubled, distorted tone to it that makes every hair on Kakashi’s body prickle with instinctive, animal alarm. “Even if you want to judge me as one, you can't.”

“So I see,” Kakashi manages, even though every lizard brain instinct is screaming at him to bolt for the door, get out from under the eyes of the biggest predator he’s ever dreamed of in his worst nightmare. “Your host is human, though.”

The thing inside Obito's body smiles, distorted, like it doesn’t know how but is trying its best to copy the expression. “My host is mine,” it says. “Nothing is allowed to hurt him.”

Simple, chilling. Kakashi has to swallow against a suddenly dry mouth, against a heart that’s rabbit-quick in his chest, though he tries not to let it show in his reaction.

And then the alien thing retreats, like a tide receding, and when Obito opens his eyes again it’s unmistakably him. The smile settles into something human, recognizable, and Kakashi’s alarm slides back down to more manageable levels.

“Sorry,” Obito says. “She isn't used to talking.”

Kakashi eyes him, not sure which part of that statement he wants to pick apart first. “…She,” he finally settles on.

Obito tips one shoulder in a shrug. “We decided,” he explains. “She wanted to be a she, so she is.”

Fair enough, Kakashi concedes. He’s certainly not about to tell the massive alien chakra-beast what gender it should identify as. “And the…change,” he says, delicately waving his fingers at his face to indicate the complete mind-fuckery that is watching Obito become a different creature entirely.

Obito rolls his eyes like it’s a stupid question, which, rude. “We’re sharing,” he says, as if it’s self-explanatory. “She’s never been a person before, but she’s trying to learn.” His smile slips, becomes something bitter and harsh. “Maybe I'm trying to relearn how to be a person, too.”

Kakashi isn't going to touch that with a ten-foot pole. “And you just—switch?” he asks. “Whenever you want? You're not trying to…contain her?”

The question earns him laughter, startled and only a little mocking. “She’s the Juubi, Bakashi,” Obito says. “Nothing in the world could contain her now if she didn’t agree to it.”

That’s…not comforting. It’s not comforting at all, and Kakashi knows the Juubi spat out the rest of the bijuu after she decided to—to keep Obito, or however that decision went down, but she also kept enough of their power that they might as well be really strong summons now, while she’s still a world-ender.

Not that Kakashi is going to object to getting to watch her drop-kick Madara right to the moon and end the war, but it’s still more than a little unnerving.

“I hope you know you're not helping your case,” he tells Obito, and it’s honest even if he makes it sound like a joke. The other Kage are pretty much breathing down the back of his neck, waiting for news that the man who started the Fourth Shinobi War and had a hand in the strife in every village is finally dead. Kakashi had never quite thought it would be easy, but this is proving even more complicated than expected.

The lines of Obito's face soften, and he glances back towards the quasi-window, raising his face like he’s trying to catch a hint of the breeze. “We just want to live,” he says quietly, tiredly. “The Juubi and I—we just want to try living a normal life. Everyone else gets to, and we’ve never had the chance.”

Kakashi stares at him for a moment that stretches, strains. He takes a breath, but Obito's eyes slide closed, and in an instant he’s so far away that Kakashi is unreasonably convinced that even if he reached out, he’d never be able to touch him.

Instead of testing it, he turns away, steps up to the door and raps on it. It’s pulled open with gratifying speed, and Yūgao looks from him to Obito and then lets out a relieved breath when she sees the chains are still intact.

Genma catches Kakashi’s elbow, propels him out of the doorway so that Yūgao and her second in command can reseal it. “Every grey hair I have is your fault,” he tells Kakashi. “You're okay?”

“Fine,” Kakashi says, though he can't figure out if it’s true. There's a strange sensation in his chest, like freefall, or maybe indigestion. “I think I need to talk to the other Kage.”

“Nothing that starts with that sentence will ever end well,” is Genma's verdict, but he follows on Kakashi’s heels as Kakashi heads for the front of the prison.

 

 

As is probably to be expected, none of the Kage like his idea. Kakashi is honestly surprised that Ōnoki’s letter doesn’t burst into flames from the sheer rage contained within, and Mei's isn't far behind. Noticeably, Tsunade doesn’t answer his message at all, even though he sends the letter with Aoba's summons so he’ll be absolutely sure it reaches her. It’s not like Kakashi was counting on her for advice, but…he’s a little disappointed, even if she’s never been in this position before, either.

Notably, though, none of the other Kage offer any sort of solution that Ibiki hasn’t already tried. There’s also a deafening lack of offers to assist, which Kakashi supposes is fair, but also makes him far less inclined to listen to their complaints. They’re making Obito Konoha's problem, and so Kakashi is going to deal with Obito the way he thinks he should.

Even less enthusiastic than the Kage are his own top commanders, and they're also quite a bit louder in their arguments.

“In your house?” Genma hisses, puffed up like a cat facing down a cobra. “Are you going to give him an engraved invitation asking him to kill you, too?”

I don’t think he wants to kill me hasn’t worked any of the last seven times Kakashi has said it, so he switches tracks. “I'm technically the strongest shinobi in the village,” he points out, and with Sasuke and Naruto out of the village and Sakura visiting Suna, it’s even true. “Keeping him close enough for me to contain is the best option, and ANBU is being run ragged trying to keep enough people on him to maybe slow him down long enough to alert me if he gets free.”

“He’s right,” Yūgao says, though she doesn’t sound very happy about it. Her arms are tightly folded over her chest, and she’s frowning. “No matter how many bodies we keep in the prison, we’re never going to be able to stop the Juubi. The Hokage might be able to.”

Kakashi is touched by the faith in his abilities, honestly. “He’ll have the seals on at all times,” he offers.

“Are you going to stake him out in your yard like a feral dog?” Yamato asks, and it’s the first thing he’s said during the meeting, perfectly mild, uninflected. Like he doesn’t care about the answer one way or another, though Kakashi can see in his eyes that that isn't even close to the truth. “Take him out for trips to T & I so they can test new poisons on him?”

There's a long moment of silence. Yūgao’s eyes are narrowed, mouth pressed into a thin line, and Genma looks faintly taken aback. Ibiki's expression, however, is deeply unimpressed.

“He’s a lot more dangerous than a feral dog,” he says bluntly. “And he’s responsible for a war that we’re going to be recovering from for years. He killed the Yondaime and his wife, too, and set the Kyuubi on the village.”

“He also stopped Madara, when it came down to it,” Yamato says, and his eyes are dark and perfectly steady as he stares across the room at Ibiki. “And he and the Juubi surrendered. They want to learn what it’s like to be people now.”

Apparently Yamato’s session interrogating Obito went about the same as Kakashi’s did. Or maybe better, since he doesn’t seem to have talked to the Juubi directly. Kakashi’s fairly sure he wouldn’t be so defensive of them if he had. But—Kakashi does understand where he’s coming from. After all, he’s witnessed Yamato’s struggle to become someone separate from Root, from Orochimaru, from ANBU, and even if Kabuto and Obito both had a hand in capturing Yamato during the war, even if he suffered at their hands, it’s logical that he’d feel a connection.

“I think,” Chōza says, carefully, softly, when it looks like Ibiki is going to respond, “that for all we should judge Obito's actions before the war, we should also judge what he did during the war. If he hadn’t turned on Madara when he did, things would have gone far worse for our forces.”

Even Ibiki doesn’t have a response to that. They all saw the power of the Juubi, and Obito and Madara getting into a catfight over her was the best possible outcome. Kakashi’s known it since the moment Obito went to his knees in front of Tsunade and told her he was surrendering.

“We don’t have another solution,” he says, and rises to his feet. “This is the best option. Yūgao, have him ready for release this evening. I’ll collect him on my way home.”

Genma looks like he’s chewing nails instead of his favorite senbon, but he doesn’t try to argue, and no one else does, either. It really is the only solution, unless they want to try keeping Obito in a prison he’s pretty much able to walk out of at any time.

“I hope you know what you’re doing,” Ibiki says as he passes, and Kakashi offers the Intelligence Chief’s back a wry smile. He does, too.

 

 

When Kakashi steps into the cell, Obito is still in the exact same position he was three days ago, face turned up to the scant bit of sun, shackled hands resting in his lap. He gradually, carefully turns his strange eyes on Kakashi, blinking slowly, like a cat, and says, “Kakashi.”

His voice is slow, too, and thick, and something in Kakashi’s chests twitches unpleasantly. “Obito?” he asks, and takes a step closer before he can stop himself.

There's a pause, and Obito closes his eyes. A shiver runs across his form, and there's a faint clatter, like crystalline scales fluttering. When he opens his eyes again, there's more awareness in them, actual attention, even if some part of him still seems distracted.

“Sorry,” he says. “We were sharing.”

For a moment Kakashi weighs whether he really wants to ask. It’s tempting to gloss over it, call the guards in and get on with things, but a thread of morbid curiosity rears its head.

“Sharing?” he asks warily.

The slant of Obito's mouth can barely be called a smile. “She wanted to know how I grew up.”

Kakashi wonders how something like that looks to a creature as alien as the Juubi. She can't have had any experience with such things, and Obito's childhood wasn’t precisely normal, either. “Why?” he asks.

Obito looks faintly surprised. “Because the only other person she’s ever lived with was the Sage,” he says. “And he kept her locked away somewhere dark, so she couldn’t see anything.”

“The Sage,” Kakashi repeats flatly. “As in…”

“The Sage of Six Paths,” Obito finishes for him, and Kakashi can see that smirk, even if he’s trying to hide it. “Ōtsutsuki Hagoromo.”

Very firmly, Kakashi puts that aside. It’s not actually relevant right now. “We’re taking you out of here,” he says instead. “As long as you agree to behave.”

“We’re going outside?” Obito asks, and hope flickers over his face, something like excitement. “Into Konoha?”

“Partly,” Kakashi says, because there's no way to get from the prison to the Hokage Mansion without going through at least one section of the village. They're trying to keep Obito as far away from people as humanly possible, though; the streets they're going to take have been evacuated, and ANBU teams have a perimeter around Kakashi’s house cleared out and ready to be turned to scorched earth if they do end up having to contain the Juubi. Kakashi is fairly pessimistic about their chances; the Kyuubi alone nearly flattened all of Konoha, and the Juubi is easily several magnitudes stronger than Kurama on his best day.

But if Obito is planning to make his break for it on their walk, there's no sign. He just nods, smiling a little, and his eyes flutter mostly shut as his face goes distant. “She wants to see the real thing,” he says absently. “Not just my memories of it.”

Kakashi supposes that years-old memories, colored first by a child’s view of the village and then by an enemy’s, probably aren’t overly satisfying, and also scraps the planned blindfold. If the Juubi wants to see where they’re going, he’s absolutely fine with making a few allowances in the name of keeping her happy.

“Trees and part of the village, coming right up,” he says keeping it as light as possible, and turns to signal the waiting ANBU team. Raidō insisted on being part of it, even though he’s technically Guard Platoon now, and Iwashi is shoulder to shoulder with Genma, waiting just past the doorway. It hasn’t escaped Kakashi’s attention that all three of the guards needed to perform the Flying Thunder God technique are present, and he’s pretty sure that it’s the result of a conspiracy between his Guard Platoon Commander and his ANBU Commander, who is also here, even though Kakashi tried to persuade her not to be. Yūgao is staying a little back, at least; if something does go wrong, Kakashi doesn’t want all the leadership in the village wiped out in one fell swoop.

“No blindfold,” he murmurs to Raidō, and the big man nods as he passes, even though he looks less than pleased. He uncoils several lengths of glowing seal-chain, the manacles on the end gleaming in the shadows, and starts laying them out around Obito.

“Namiashi,” Obito says, and tips his head, Rinnegan and Mangekyō Sharingan both trained right on Raidō. “You're Namiashi Raidō.”

To his credit, Raidō doesn’t even flinch under that strange stare. “And you're the Juubi,” he answers, and goes back to checking the links.

Obito snorts, but he doesn’t try to argue. “That’s half of us,” he confirms, and out of the corner of his eye Kakashi can see Iwashi give Genma a disbelieving look. Genma's return gesture is entirely I told you so, complete with emphatic punctuation, and Kakashi strangles a groan. He gets the feeling that he’s about to have another overly devoted guard to go along with Genma.

“These are going to go around your upper arms,” Raidō says, because apparently Obito proving that he can still talk means he needs an explanation of the bonds. Not that Kakashi has an opinion on the matter. “And the shorter one will chain your ankles. These two attach to the collar. If any of them break, they’ll activate the containment seals on the collar and the shackles.”

Obito nods, looking serious, even though everyone in the room knows that the containment seals might manage to tickle the Juubi if they're strong enough. Working on human levels—even working on jinchuuriki levels—isn't anywhere close to sufficient, but it’s not like the Elemental Countries have had to contain a lot of gods before.

“We just want to see outside,” Obito says. “We won't hurt anyone.”

The plural makes him just slightly less believable, Kakashi thinks.

Raidō apparently takes him at his word, though. He nods, shifting forward, and the first shackle snaps closed around Obito's elbow and upper arm, holding it stiff. A masked ANBU member picks up the end of the chain, gripping it tightly, and Raidō moves on to the next arm. Obito sits pliant for all of it, even when Raidō cautiously tips his head a little to the side to attach a chain around one of the spines jutting from his back.

Kakashi wants to feel disturbed by the difference from the raging, furious man he faced on the battlefield, who shouted at him and fought bloody and dirty and desperate, like he was trying to tear himself apart at the same time as he ripped the world to shreds. He wants to, but—there's something in his chest, in his head, that’s full of pieces that feel like broken glass, and all of his feelings about this new Obito are buried deep down in there somewhere, left to rot. He isn't going to dig them up, if they even exist at all.

“Up,” Raidō says, with no room for argument, and Obito glances at Kakashi, then carefully gets his feet under himself and rises. The chains clink, and the one between his ankles is too short for a full stride, but he cautiously steps forward anyway, until the chain still attached to the wall pulls tight.

Raidō makes a quick hand sign, and catches the length of metal as it falls away. He takes his place directly behind Obito and nods sharply to Kakashi. “We’re ready, sir.”

It would be so much easier to leave Obito in this cell, to keep a guard on him. Kakashi doesn’t want to have to bring him home, to put him in his house, but there's no one else who has the ability to keep Obito restrained. No one else with the duty, either, and Kakashi kind of wants to curse Tsunade for leaving him with it, for dropping the hat on his head and bolting the second the dust from the war cleared.

“You know the route,” he says. The first tug of a chain starts Obito moving, and it’s not resistance but it’s not anything eager, either. He doesn’t look around as their strange group heads out of the prison, but Kakashi can see faces peer through the bars on the far side of the main hall, go still and quiet when they see Obito being led past. News of the war has probably filtered in here, but Kakashi doubts much more has. If they don’t know Obito's identity, they will by the end of the night, though. It’s hard to keep something like this a secret, even if Kakashi is trying his damndest.

“How long do we get to be outside?” Obito asks as the main doors come into view, and his mismatched eyes fix on the patch of light that falls on the stone ahead of them. That dark thing shifts under his skin again, lost to a slide of shadow, but Kakashi sees it. He’s been looking for it, after all.

It would be easy enough to tell Obito that this isn't just a walk so he can stretch his legs. Kakashi doesn’t, because he doesn’t owe Obito any answers, no matter what changes of heart he may or may not have had. “Are you sharing all of your memories with the Juubi?” he asks instead.

Obito rolls his eyes. “She’s in my head, Bakashi,” he says, and it’s sharp, judgmental. Quite frankly the tone is a relief from the bland distraction Kakashi’s been hearing, and he almost lets out a loud breath of amusement, stops himself just in time. “It would be hard to keep her from seeing anything.”

Kakashi tries to wrap his mind around that, around sharing every single thought or memory he’s ever had with an alien, unfamiliar creature, not even vaguely human, who just happened to take up residence in his body. If there's anything more horrifying, Kakashi can't think of it off the top of his head. “Do you want to?” he asks, and tries to keep the disturbed note out of his voice.

Obito snorts. “Because being in prison gives me a lot of privacy anyway,” he says dryly, but turns his face up towards the setting sun as they emerge into the wide yard. The main gates are already standing open, and when Obito's eyes settle on the trees beyond, he smiles. Says, a little distractedly, “I don’t mind, anyway. She just wants to know what it’s like to be human. All the parts of it, now matter how messy.”

Thinking too deeply into that just promises a lot of disturbing thoughts, so Kakashi sets the phrasing aside to ignore completely. “How generous of you,” he says, and doesn’t mean it.

Obito ignores him right back. “Do you know what that tree is?” he asks, and his eyes settle on the tallest tree in front of them.

“Fir,” Iwashi says, from his place about two inches from Kakashi’s left shoulder. “And that one next to it is a spruce.”

“Thanks,” Obito says, and Kakashi can see his lips move, framing the two names. That otherness shifts under his skin, and judging by the way Iwashi’s eyes widen sharply as he takes a hasty step to the side, Kakashi isn't the only one who sees it. He gives Iwashi’s what the actual fuck glance a commiserating smile in response and doesn’t blame the man at all when he refuses to get so much as a single step closer to their prisoner.

If Obito were fighting, thrashing, even jeering at the guards, Kakashi might feel better about the situation. But he’s quiet as they make their way down the forest road, to one of the lesser-used gates, and it itches beneath Kakashi’s skin. Tugs at his mind, bites at his spine, and he doesn’t look at Obito wrapped in chains, led like a dangerous animal into the village with taunt chains holding him in the center of a knot of guards. At least with his white hair, the scales, the strange spines and the horns and the eyes, it’s harder to look at him and see the boy who died for Kakashi, or even the man who tried to burn the world down. But—it doesn’t sit easy on Kakashi’s shoulders, and he wants to take out his book, distract himself with a few fictional tumbles even if he doesn’t quite dare. Too dangerous, still. There's no saying what might happen.

When the Hokage Mansion comes into view, Obito doesn’t show any reaction. Then again, he’s studying the houses on either side of them, looking around like he’s never seen the village before, and Kakashi half expects to look at him and see the Juubi staring out, the alien right beneath the half-familiar. It’s deliberate that he doesn’t look too closely as he approaches, meeting a familiar figure by the front gate.

“Sai,” he says.

Sai beams at him. “Kakashi-senpai,” he greets. “Yamato-senpai has been muttering things about you all morning.”

Kakashi is sure Yamato has. His opinion on keeping Obito locked up hasn’t improved, and Kakashi’s heard the tirade twice already, even if it’s not quite enough to change his mind. “Oh?” he asks lightly. “Anything interesting?”

“He called you self-obsessed,” Sai says cheerfully. “And said that it’s no wonder you couldn’t find anyone to sleep with when your ego is enough to fill three beds all by itself.”

Kakashi winces. That’s a good bit angrier than it was before, and the progression of Yamato’s temper isn't promising. “I’ll talk to him,” he says with a sigh. “Are the barriers set up?”

“Of course.” Sai offers him a bracelet, a thin loop of black so dark that Kakashi can hardly see the lacework scrawl of seals across it. “A drop of blood should be enough to activate them.”

Should be isn't a phrase Kakashi is overly fond of, especially in this context, but it’s not like any of them have done a trial run or gotten previous experience here. They're all just hoping for the best and doing what they can. It’s a blessing Obito isn't trying to fight the confinement, because Kakashi knows exactly how much trouble they’d be in if he did.

“Thanks, Sai,” he says, and Sai looks past him, tips his head and smiles at Obito.

“I read that people who act like dicks are trying to compensate for their small penises,” he says brightly, and Kakashi kind of wants to groan, or maybe shove him off a cliff. “Is that true?”

Slowly, Obito raises a brow, looking Sai over. “I don’t know,” he says, dust-dry. “But Kakashi probably would. Why don’t you ask him?”

It’s possibly that it’s Iwashi who strangles a laugh into a cough. That’s all right; Kakashi is already assigning him a month of terrible D-ranks for it. Genma too, if he doesn’t get rid of that smirk. “Maa, Obito,” he protests. “You're really going to be mean to me after I arranged your release?”

Obito's eyes widen, and he turns to look at Kakashi even though it makes the guards twitch towards their weapons. “Release?” he repeats.

“I argued them down to house arrest,” Kakashi tells him breezily, and waves a hand at the mansion. “You have to stay on the grounds, but it’s better than a cell.”

Obito looks from Kakashi to the mansion, and smiles. “Thank you,” he says, and promptly ruins it by adding, “We appreciate it.”

Kakashi strangles the sigh that wants to shake him. “Just—go inside,” he says, and it probably doesn’t sound entirely like a plea.

As the guards march Obito through the narrow front gate and up the walk, Iwashi slides a step closer, bumps Kakashi’s shoulder lightly with his own. “You really have no idea what you're doing here, do you,” he says, because Genma infects everyone who works closely to him with his impertinence. Or maybe that’s just Iwashi.

“Insubordination,” Kakashi says, without conviction. “I’ll have you cleaning the bathrooms in the Jounin Standby Station for the next year if you keep that up. Not another word.”

Iwashi helpfully repeats himself in ANBU hand-sign code, because he’s nothing if not dedicated. Kakashi would be impressed, except not.

“Genma, your Platoon members are terrible,” he says. “I want them all fired.”

“And I want you to not be shacking up with the Juubi trapped inside the husk of your traitorous childhood friend,” Genma says, pointedly inspecting his nails instead of doing anything productive, like writing Iwashi up. “But I guess we don’t always get what we want, do we, Hokage-sama.”

For the sake of his dignity, Kakashi decides to take his chances with Sai and Obito in the mansion. At least the dick jokes aren’t quite so passive-aggressive.

 

 

By the time all the seals have been checked over for the twelfth go-round and ANBU has swept every inch of the mansion for cracks in the barriers and Genma has checked that Kakashi has at least fifteen kunai under his pillow as well as a tantō hidden behind the headboard, it’s almost midnight. Kakashi sees them all to the front door with a sense of relief that has nothing to do with the monster testing the bed in the guestroom, and even getting them all out of his house takes a decent amount of time.

“I'm leaving Neji and Tenten on the roof,” Yūgao tells him, watching the squads split off and disappear into the deserted area of the village. “And Genma and Iwashi will be by the gate if you need them. Raidō volunteered to take the post by the door.”

All three of the guards who know the Hiraishin, Kakashi reflects again, and glances over at the tree by the gate. Iwashi and Genma aren’t making any attempt to hide their presence; Genma even gives him a salute when he notices Kakashi looking, and Kakashi gets the feeling that their conversation is very definitely going to edge into the territory of a bitchfest. Soon, if it hasn’t already.

“Make sure someone relieves all three of them tomorrow,” he tells Yūgao. “By force, if necessary.”

“I don’t have any sway over the Guard Platoon,” Yūgao lies, perfectly straight-faced. “You’ll have to save any issues you have with the roster for Genma, Hokage-sama.”

Kakashi stares at her flatly for a long moment, then gives up arguing as a lost cause. “No one in my house unless I'm actually dying,” he warns her, waits until she nods unhappily, and steps back into the hall, carefully shutting the door behind him.

When he turns around, the Juubi is eight inches from his face, staring at him.

Kakashi absolutely does not squeak, and he doesn’t jump, either. He takes a perfectly measured step back, runs up against the door, and tries to claw his heart out of where it’s been lodged in his throat. This isn't Obito, and he can tell that at a glance; the face is just wrong, and what’s behind the eyes is vast and terrible and has only the vaguest understanding of humans as living, breathing creatures.

“Juubi,” he says, when his voice manages to crawl back from wherever it fled. “Are the sheets the wrong color?”

The Juubi just blinks at him, long and slow. She tips her head, and that’s not an angle human necks assume naturally. “Datara,” she says, still that eerie doubled tone. “I have decided that I have a name, and it is Datara.”

There's a subtle emphasis on the I, a careful pronunciation like this is something new and unfamiliar to her. Kakashi feels something cold, a faint chill down his spine, and has to take a slow breath to keep from saying something unforgivably Naruto-like.

“Datara,” he repeats. “That’s—a nice name.”

But the Juubi is fading away, falling back, and this time Obito keeps his eyes open as he surfaces. It’s unspeakably eerie to see him become Obito again, instead of a vague vessel with something else inside of it.

“Datara wanted to introduce herself,” he says, blinking a few times, and then shakes his head. “Since she finally picked a name, I mean.”

“Has this…been in the works?” Kakashi asks, but without the Juubi in front of him he feels more or less safe enough to take a step away from the door, pushing upright and slipping past Obito. Instead of tea, sake. Tsunade had better have left at least one bottle stashed in the kitchen when she moved out, or Konoha's new Hokage is going to end up making a late-night run to the nearest liquor store.

Obito follows him, soundless steps but an eerie white form in the shadows. “She used to be other people,” he says. “Or other things. But when she decided a host was better, she made their remnants into part of her, and their names didn’t fit anymore.”

This sounds like a conversation Kakashi is going to need several drinks for. Thankfully, a few moments of rooting through the towel drawer produces a decent bottle of umeshu, which is rather sweeter than Kakashi would normally prefer, but not something he’s about to refuse right now. He gets out a cup, then pauses, and a shred of manners surfaces. He lifts a second cup questioningly, and Obito pauses for a long moment and then shakes his head.

“She doesn’t like drinking poison,” he explains, but he takes the bottle and cup, pours Kakashi a careful measure, and then pushes it back across the counter.

Not entirely sure how to react to that, Kakashi sinks down on one of the stools, picks up his cup, and takes a careful sip. “She was part of other people. Do you mean the Sage?” he asks.

Obito pauses, tilting his head a little like he’s listening to the Juubi talk. This time, Kakashi is relieved to note, it’s not an inhuman slant, just a normal one. “Not the Sage so much,” he says, frowning. “There was a tree, and a woman who called herself a goddess. They became Datara, and then Datara split their power up and remade the other bijuu, because she didn’t want to be them anymore.”

Naruto was very relieved to have Kurama back, so Kakashi isn't about to say it was a bad thing. Maybe still a little worrying, though, to think that the Juubi was the combination of two equally powerful forces. That begs the question of what happened to those forces. “The tree and the goddess are her now?” he asks carefully.

There's a longer hesitation this time, and Obito's frown deepens a little. “Not…exactly,” he says, and something settles, cold and resigned, in the pit of Kakashi’s stomach. Well. That’s going to be a problem, then. “The tree was scattered across the world, and the goddess—her body was sealed away.”

“It was,” Kakashi says, not a question. More resignation, because there's no way that won't come back around to bite them all in the ass. “Where.”

“The moon,” Obito says, with what’s probably meant to be a reassuring smile. “Don’t worry, no one can get to it without us.”

Kakashi wonders at the logistical potential of blowing up the moon, just to be sure, then realizes what he’s contemplating and groans inwardly. He splays a hand over his face, closes his eye, and breathes out. No. Nope. That is absolutely without a doubt a terrible idea, and proof that he’s spent far too much time around Sakura, Naruto, and Sai.

“I,” he says with all the dignity remaining to him, “am going to take my alcohol and go to bed. If you need me, I’ll be in my room.”

“Good night,” the Juubi says, two-toned voice making Kakashi twitch. “I hope your nightmares are pleasant.”

Slowly, incredulously, Kakashi levels a speaking look at Obito as his former teammate comes back to the forefront.

To his credit, Obito looks faintly chagrined. “We’re working on it,” he says.

Kakashi grabs his bottle, collects his cup, and leaves the kitchen before he has to suffer through any more well-wishes from a creature pulled right out of his darkest dreams. Or the thing inside of him.

 

 

The house is still perfectly, eerily silent when Kakashi gets back from a round of early-morning meetings he’s pretty sure were only scheduled so his commanders could make sure he was still breathing. Neji and Tenten have been replaced by two older ANBU members, and they nod politely but don’t move when Kakashi heads up the path to the front door. Kakashi waves a hand over his shoulder, then glances at Raidō, who’s still acting as his shadow.

“Aren’t you tired?” he asks dryly.

“This is what soldier pills were invented for,” Raidō says, grimly determined, and then pauses. “Not this exactly, I mean, but—”

“Go away,” Kakashi tells him. “I'm dismissing you. I'm home. There's no need for a guard when I already have ANBU hovering outside the door.”

“Genma isn't going to like that at all,” Raidō says, faintly distressed. “And he only just went home.”

“Genma can take it up with me,” Kakashi promises, even though that promises to be a headache of its own the moment Genma realizes. “He and Iwashi are probably in the middle of something dirty right now, and you deserve to get in on that. Go home.”

Raidō gives him a skeptical look, but when Kakashi gives him a pointed wave he sighs, lifting his hands in surrender. “Yes Hokage-sama,” he agrees.

Kakashi is getting tired of people calling him that, and it’s only been a few weeks. Before he can attempt to protest, though, Raidō is turning away, disappearing with a flicker of shunshin. The two ANBU members are watching him, probably with disapproval, but Kakashi ignores them, letting himself into the house.

It’s just as quiet inside as outside, and Kakashi pauses in the hall, frowning as he trades his sandals for slippers. He knows Obito is still inside—if ANBU doesn’t have eyes on him at least every three minutes they’re supposed to alert him immediately—but the house is big enough that it takes Kakashi a minute to search the downstairs, and he can't see any trace of life. There aren’t even fresh dishes in the drain rack, and no signs that anything has been cooked, either.

The second floor is his next stop, and he doesn’t have to go far. The door to the guest bedroom—Obito's bedroom, now—is slightly ajar, and Kakashi pushes it open cautiously, not bothering to knock.

For a moment, he thinks the room is empty. The bed doesn’t look slept in, and there are no clothes removed from the closet. A little concerned now, Kakashi pushes the door open further, takes a step in—

Obito turns from the window to look at him. “Haven’t you ever heard of knocking, Bakashi?” he asks tartly, but he doesn’t seem to be doing anything that he’d object to being disturbed at. As far as Kakashi can tell, he was staring out the window, and he’s willing to suspect that Obito's been doing the same thing for a while now.

“You know,” he says dryly, “the seals don’t keep you locked in here. You can go anywhere inside the boundary fence, as long as ANBU doesn’t lose you.”

Obito pauses, expression twisting with something that might be disgust, or maybe something else entirely. He turns back to the window, resting his fingertips against the glass, and says, “There's a bird’s nest.”

That…isn't what Kakashi was expecting him to say. “A bird’s nest,” he repeats, letting his gaze drift to the tree outside the window. He can see the shape of the nest from here, half-obscured by leaves but clear enough. “Didn’t you say the Juubi used to be a tree? One would think she’d be used to birds.”

The sound Obito makes is one of irritation, caught in the back of his throat. “I said half of her came from a tree,” he corrects. “It’s like saying that because you came from Sakumo you should have all of his memories.”

Kakashi can't quite remember the last time he heard someone say his father’s name. No one in Konoha does; he’s never been quite sure whether it’s shame or derision that keeps them from it, but he’s grown used to the lack over the years, to the empty place where his father’s legacy should be. Hearing it now makes his breath catch in his lungs, makes his muscles stiffen. He keeps himself from taking a step back through sheer willpower, swallows, breathes.

“She’s the offspring, not the remnant,” he finally says, halfway between disbelief and a request for clarification.

“She made herself out of two separate creatures that shouldn’t have been combined,” Obito says, and the curl of his mouth goes bitter again. “That sounds familiar, doesn’t it?”

Kakashi isn't entirely sure if he’s talking about himself or Kakashi, but—neither of them had average families, even for shinobi. He’s never looked into Obito's history too closely; there was no need when he was dead, and then no way when all of the Uchiha were dead as well. But the words make him wonder, and he files it away as something to consider in the future. Sasuke mentioned that he intends to go through the old clan records, see if there are any bastard children or exiled clan members Itachi and Obito might have missed in their massacre. He might be able to dig up the files on Obito's parents at the same time.

“Ayame is bringing ramen,” he says, instead of addressing it. “For lunch. Unless you’d rather just eat natural chakra.”

Obito doesn’t seem to catch the dryness in his tone. “Ramen?” he asks, and there's a thread in his voice that’s almost excitement. “From Ichiraku?”

“To celebrate the end of the war,” Kakashi says, and keeps it perfectly innocent. Obito gives him a narrow look, pauses, and then huffs, turning away from the window.

“Asshole,” he says.

“You did end the war for us,” Kakashi points out, and the sight of that returned prickliness is enough to make it cheerful as he follows Obito out. “I'm not sure it counts for quite as much when you're the one who started it in the first place, but still.”

At the top of the stairs, Obito pauses, and the line of his scaled shoulders is strange, tight. “Believe me, Bakashi,” he says tightly. “If I’d known even a quarter of what I learned during the war when I was going in, I’d have brought Madara back just to tear him apart with my bare hands and skipped the battle part entirely.”

Kakashi believes him. “Even if it was the only way to get the chakra for that plan?” he asks mildly.

“He killed Rin,” Obito says, and his voice cracks. “What do you think?”

He’s gone an instant later, taking the stairs down two at a time. For a long moment, Kakashi stares after him, caught off guard, and—it makes sense, he thinks, cynical, cold. Rin has always been Obito's weakness.

He finds Obito in the kitchen, standing in the middle of the space with a twisted, lost expression on his face that makes something hot and tight flicker in Kakashi’s chest before he ruthlessly crushes it back down. “It’s been years,” he says, and his voice sounds harsh in his ears, even though he tries to keep it even. “Are you really still in love with her?”

Obito's laugh cracks like glass, mirror-bright shards that scratch at Kakashi’s skin. “This wasn’t because I was in love with her, Kakashi,” he says, incredulous, like he can't believe Kakashi hasn’t realized it yet. “She was my best friend! Thirteen years, and she was the only one who gave me the time of day! I would have been fucking over the moon if she’d been willing to date me, but if you think that’s the only fucking reason I cared about her—fuck you.”

He stalks out of the kitchen, and distantly Kakashi can hear a door slam after him. The breath shudders out of his lungs, and he leans against the edge of the kitchen counter, trying to stop the strange, lurching beat of his heart. All this time, all these years, and he just—managed to forget. So simple to see Obito as his best friend, as the best friend he failed, who changed his entire world with one selfless act, and Kakashi managed to overlook the fact that it wasn’t him who was the center of Obito's entire life. Obito and Rin were always together, from the first moment Kakashi met either of them in the Academy to the very last moment of Obito's first life. And Obito—he didn’t have anyone else. No other friends, no family. Just Rin.

In light of that, it’s no surprise that something in him broke when she died. When Kakashi killed her, because she was manipulated, because she was the bravest fucking girl Kakashi has ever met and gave her life to keep her village safe without a moment’s hesitation. It doesn’t offer any excuses for what Obito did in the aftermath, but—

This wasn’t some childhood crush turned into anger. This was Obito losing the only person who had a real connection to him, the only person who really mattered, and cracking right down the center because of it.

Kakashi doesn’t try to go after Obito. He can't bring himself to see Obito, because the only thing behind his eyes right now is Rin's face, bloody and pale and pained, full of relief and grim triumph as the light left her eyes. She made her choice, she took the blow because she couldn’t take her own life, and Kakashi wishes, wishes that he had seen all the threads then, all the bits of the puzzle scattered across their lives. Unreasonable, maybe, but—Madara was pulling their strings. Madara had all of them dancing like puppets and not even Minato noticed. Not even the Sandaime, who knew him as a child. No one suspected. No one thought to look.

This, at least, Kakashi isn't going to blame himself for. Rin's death has eaten at him for years, and Obito's, and Minato's to a lesser extent. But there was no way to see the string that connected them with the information Kakashi had, and he breathes out, lets that knowledge settle, and feels marginally better for it.

He answers the knock at the door, pays Ayame, and eats his ramen in the silence of the kitchen, allowing himself to enjoy every bite. Obito's he leaves on the counter, cooling in the afternoon air, as he heads out to meet Gai for a spar.

 

 

Inuzuka Hana is one of the ANBU members at the gate when Kakashi makes his way back, and she gives him a toothy grin and flashes him a good luck sign. Kakashi waves his thanks, letting himself in, and tries to pretend that he didn’t accidentally head back to his old apartment before remembering he didn’t live there anymore. Gai kept him distracted, and he’s grateful for it, but now that he’s remembering it feels…foreboding coming back here. Coming back to the monster trapped here.

There isn't quite the same deathly hush to the place, this time. When Kakashi steps out of his sandals, he catches the faint clatter of someone in the kitchen, a faint smell of something frying. Nothing smells burned, and there's no smoke, which is honestly a little startling, given what Kakashi knows about Obito as a person. Faintly dubious, he follows his nose, and steps through the doorway only to stop dead.

“Get that look off your face, I'm going to clean it up,” Obito says without looking back at him.

“You’d better,” Kakashi says, maybe a little faintly, but it looks like a tornado of knives hit a vegetable cart and then exploded all over his kitchen. There are piles of chopped things, smears of things that have been too finely diced to hold any sort of texture, big chunks of vegetables sitting in listing towers. A confused-looking koi is swimming in Kakashi’s biggest mixing bowl, and there's a half-empty bag of sesame seeds listing in the open window, with a whole host of birds waiting avidly just beyond the sill.

“What are you even doing?” Kakashi asks, when he can't physically hold the question in any longer.

“Cooking,” Obito says, like cooking usually requires half the contents of Konoha’s market and every single one of Kakashi’s pans. He turns away from the stove, which looks miraculously—and bewilderingly—untouched, and slides a fish out onto a plate. It’s not a koi, Kakashi feels fairly sure. “We got distracted, though. Datara hasn’t tasted anything before.”

Kakashi waits about two seconds for the qualifier to that statement, then remembers that there won't be one because this is the Juubi, and wonders instead if he’ll ever manage to get all the tomato pulp off the floor.

“Did you go out,” he demands belatedly.

“Raidō brought it.” Obito rolls his eyes, giving Kakashi a look like he’s judging his intelligence. “You really think I'm about to just walk through the barriers and all of the ANBU out there?”

Yes, Kakashi almost says. “I didn’t think Raidō was willing to run errands,” he manages instead. Pauses, watched carefully as Obito scoops rice into two bowls, and then asks warily, “Do you want my cookbooks?”

Obito glances up, and his face breaks into a smirk. “I don’t know, Bakashi, are you sure you’d be willing to trust us with dangerous weapons like that? We might end up making flan, or something.”

“The horror,” Kakashi says dryly. “Is one of those for me?”

Obito snorts. “If you want it,” he says dismissively, taking a seat at the table. He has to push some thinly sliced squash out of the way to make room, but he seems to be ignoring the carefully prepared tray he left in front of the other cleared spot. Kakashi eyes it, then Obito and his single-minded quest to reach the bottom of his rice, and decides it’s probably safe enough. Raidō likely didn’t poison anything, since Kakashi has been known to use the kitchen sometimes too. Obito probably didn’t poison anything, either; if he wanted to kill Kakashi, there are a lot of easier and quicker methods open to him.

Surprisingly the food isn't terrible. The mackerel is a little more cooked than Kakashi likes, and the vegetables are rather underdone, but it’s edible. It’s the sort of thing someone who hasn’t cooked in almost twenty years might make, and so Kakashi keeps his mouth shut and eats what he’s been given.

Obito reems rather less pleased with the results, but he eats it as well, though he frowns most of the time. Then, abruptly, he says, “The ramen was good.”

“Even after the noodles got soggy?” Kakashi asks. That must have been what started all of this; Obito wasn’t being fed in the prison, and Kakashi didn’t feed him last night, either. The ramen must have been his first real food since the Juubi took up residence inside him, and the taste must have interested her. Kakashi just hopes that other things don’t interest her the same way, or if they do, they all end with something as harmless as piles of vegetables covering every inch of Kakashi’s kitchen.

The question just gets him a shrug in response. “I don’t remember what it’s supposed to taste like any other way,” Obito admits, and then pulls a face. “Even with how many times Minato dragged us there.”

“That’s probably because we all blocked out the memory,” Kakashi says dryly. “No one needs to remember Minato trying to challenge Kushina to a ramen-eating contest.”

Obito laughs, and this time it’s softer around the edges, kinder. “The fact that he didn’t learn his lesson the first time proved he was an idiot about her,” he agrees, and Kakashi wants to say you're the reason they're both dead but he also wants to reach out and touch the curve of Obito's small, fond smile.

He curls his hands into fists in his lap before he has to decide, because neither of those options will end well.

“I’ll go get those cookbooks,” he says, and it’s tight in his throat, but he thinks it passes mostly unnoticed, since Obito is still picking at his carrots. “And just—leave them in your room. I have paperwork.”

Obito nods without looking up. “We’ll clean up,” he promises, but Kakashi is out the door almost before he finished speaking. There are too many thoughts in his head, an empty space in his chest, and his breath isn't quite as steady as he would like as he steps into his study.

He leaves the cookbooks on Obito's bed, but only because they're easy to find and he never uses them anyway.

 

 

The lack of anything concrete to do in the early hours of the morning leave Kakashi at something at a loss. He sleeps in, wanders around his room for a while, rereads a favorite chapter of Icha Icha, and absolutely does not listen at his door for any sign that his unasked-for roommate is stirring. If he is, though, there's no sound to give him away, and Kakashi isn't overly surprised. For all his new mental tagalong, Obito is a shinobi, and he’s arguably been even more active than Kakashi has in his career. At least Kakashi had time off; Obito was always on mission, and this must be his first time off since Madara recruited him.

Kakashi spends another few moments contemplating the image of Obito in civilian clothes and the Tobi mask, availing himself of a day of shopping, and then firmly shuts the thought away as vaguely scarring. He also steels himself to emerge from his room, heading downstairs to investigate how much of the kitchen is still a disaster zone. It seems fair to expect that the Juubi’s attention span for cleaning would be about the same as her attention span for cooking, but when Kakashi leans through the doorway, everything is astonishingly spotless. He pauses, blinking, and then notices the coffee pot is working. It’s finished brewing, but the warmer is on, and when Kakashi wanders over to test the heat of it, it’s hot enough that it can't have been sitting long.

For a moment, he contemplates the horror of the Juubi on a caffeine high before he remembers that poison doesn’t affect Obito at all. Likely caffeine won't either, which is a good thing where the safety and sanity of the village is concerned. Kakashi does manage to feel vaguely disappointed all the same; it would have been amusing, to say the least.

“You're awake,” someone says behind him, and Kakashi forces himself not to stiffen at the sound of the two-tone, shifting voice. “The sleep cycle has ended?”

Kakashi turns, facing down the alien staring out of Obito's eyes, who is…holding a coffee cup. “For now,” he says carefully, and wonders how to politely ask if she ate her host permanently. “You made coffee.”

It’s not a question, and the Juubi doesn’t answer it. “Obito enjoys it,” she says, a careful pronunciation of the name that takes a second longer than it should. “He said you also enjoyed it.”

A wonderful reminder that Obito has been watching him secretly for almost twenty years now, Kakashi thinks wryly. Charming. “I do,” he agrees, then pauses. “How did you…”

For a long moment, the Juubi stares at him, unblinking, like she’s forgotten that she needs to. Then, slowly, she says, “There are directions on the back of the bag.”

Well. Now Kakashi feels like an idiot. “Thanks for making extra,” he offers, instead of why is an ancient terrifying primordial chakra beast reading the directions on a bag of coffee such a hilarious image and will you kill me if I laugh?

The Juubi smiles, an awful, rictus expression. “We are drinking our coffee in the vegetable garden,” she says, like this is something novel and intriguing.

“There's a vegetable garden?” Kakashi asks, honestly a little startled. He hasn’t gotten much of a chance to explore the grounds, or any of the rooms beyond his own, the kitchen, and the office.

Thankfully, the Juubi doesn’t seem to see anything out of the ordinary about his lack of knowledge. “There are carrots growing,” she says, then moves past Kakashi, heading for the coffee machine. He stiffens before he can help it at the brush of her skin, the electric crackle of far too much chakra swimming just beneath the surface. Twitching away is automatic, instinctive; he’s gotten used to Naruto's chakra levels over the years, the steady surging current of the Kyuubi’s power, but the Juubi is something else entirely. Something vast, that Kakashi can only sense the smallest portions of; it’s like he’s an ant trying to see the entirety of a mountain, and that is the least comforting metaphor his brain has ever come up with.

If the Juubi thinks his reaction is remarkable, she doesn’t show it. She just pours more coffee into the mug, then reaches for the sugar bowl and—

Kakashi catches her wrist, the motion automatic. “I don’t think you need that much sugar,” he says, even though a good portion of his brain is screaming at him to let go of the eldritch monster and bolt before she gets irritated at him being handsy.

The Juubi pauses in the process of upending the sugar bowl into her mug, then pauses. “Oh,” she says, cocking her head in a birdlike motion. She closes her eyes, and when she opens them she’s a distant shadow under the skin, with Obito at the forefront again.

“Thanks,” Obito says, and lowers the sugar bowl. “I think we need to work on our definitions of a little.”

Kakashi hadn’t even considered that, but—of course impressions of an uncertain measurement like that would be different between a human-sized person and one that was capable of holding the bijuu cupped in her palm like toys. “I know you have a sweet tooth,” he says, and lets go of Obito’s wrist. “But I was pretty sure it wasn’t that severe.”

“Yeah,” Obito says with a snort. “Not quite.” He adds a spoonful of sugar instead of a bowlful, then steps back, letting Kakashi take his place in front of the coffee maker. The awareness of someone dangerous behind him prickles across the back of Kakashi’s neck, but he forces himself to grab a mug and pour his coffee without twitching. When he finally lets himself turn, though, Obito is looking out the window, expression distant.

Kakashi takes a moment to look at him. He hasn’t made any effort to change his clothes, or even find a shirt, and in the sunlight the dead-white skin is somehow even eerier than it is in the shadows, the outlines of the scales sharper, more defined. His hair is a bare shade whiter, falling around his ears, and even his eyelashes are white. He looks like he’s been stripped of color, with only the magatama and his eyes to add contrast. Eerie, Kakashi thinks, and there's a shiver that slides down his spine and sinks into the pit of his stomach.

You know, we provided you with clothes in your room, he thinks about saying, but that implies he’s noticed Obito isn't wearing many, and he isn't willing to start down that path.

“Did you find the bath?” he asks instead, because that’s close enough while also being a smokescreen.

“Are you saying we stink?” Obito retorts, but he glances back, eyes focusing on Kakashi again, and it’s something like a relief.

“Maa, you're the one saying that,” Kakashi says, raising his hands, and smiles cheerily at Obito. “But, if you're waiting for me to disagree…”

“Asshole,” Obito says, rolling his eyes, but he looks away again. “I was going to go after I finished my coffee.”

That’s enough like a victory for Kakashi to concede the field. He hums in wordless agreement, then open the fridge to grab the milk. Pauses, blinking at the suddenly stuffed-full shelves, overflowing with bowls and bags.

So that’s where all the chopped vegetables went.

Kakashi decides he’d rather drink his coffee black than fight through the press, and carefully closes the fridge again. “I have meetings all afternoon,” he says. “I won't be back until late.”

“I promise not to rampage through the village while you're at work, dear,” Obito says, sardonic, and leaves the kitchen before Kakashi can think of a retort that isn't I wasn’t worried about that, because he really was.

Setting his cup down, Kakashi sighs, and as the door onto the porch thumps shut in the distance he drags a hand over his face and wonders if he can get away with sleeping part-time at his old apartment. The landlord probably hasn’t leased it out yet. Kakashi’s the Hokage, too; he can totally coopt an apartment just because he doesn’t want to have any more awkward conversations with his former friend and the eldritch abomination inside of him. Especially when they're all pretending that they're domestic.

He shudders a little, swallows his hot coffee in a few painful gulps, and grabs his flak jacket off the hook by the door. Filling out paperwork sounds a hell of a lot more interesting than wandering around the house right now.

 

 

Sakura blows in with the evening wind, tanned and glowing and carrying a new set of scrolls that are probably stuffed with poisons and antidotes that Kakashi doesn’t want to think about too closely. She comes around the desk to kiss his cheek, which Kakashi pretends to suffer through, and then drops a cactus on his desk, right on top of the new candidates for jounin sensei he’s been going over.

“From Gaara,” she explains, and she’s still smiling.

“A good visit, then?” Kakashi asks, eyeing her. He picks up the cactus, turning it around to study it from every angle, and he personally can't see anything remarkable about it, but he still sets it in the corner of the desk, which was looking a little empty anyway.

“Temari and I got a lot of training done,” Sakura agrees, and there's the faintest dreamy edge to her smile that catches Kakashi’s attention.

“Temari, hm?” he asks dryly. “It must have been quite the training.”

Sakura goes pink, and quickly asks, “How is Sai? Has anyone punched him yet this week?”

“It’s only Thursday, give him a chance.” Kakashi debates whether to press her, then decides that he rather likes his office how it is—namely, in one piece—and decides not to. “Suna's wounded?”

“Almost completely healed,” Sakura reports, and looks entirely pleased with herself. “The hospital only has a few people from the war left, and most of them will be released soon. Casualties were lower than expected.”

If Obito and the Juubi hadn’t been smitten at first creepy mental connection and had actually tried to fight alongside Madara, things would have gone a lot worse, Kakashi reflects, and has to swallow. It doesn’t change anything for the people who did die, though, and there were enough of them that Kakashi isn't going to write their deaths off. “It’s the same here,” he says, “and in the other nations as well. We’re all recovering.”

Sakura's smile is bittersweet. “Some better than others,” she says, and gives Kakashi a look that’s just as sharp as Tsunade's ever were. “How are you doing, Kakashi-sensei?”

Not being Hokage-sama to someone is a startling relief. At least when Sakura calls him sensei, Kakashi can know he earned it. “Fine,” he says breezily. “Have you heard from Naruto or the other one?”

Sakura rolls her eyes at him. “Just because Sasuke was rude to you doesn’t mean you have to be rude back, Kakashi-sensei,” she says, exasperated.

He’s a little bitch and I'm going to treat him as one for as long as he acts that way, Kakashi thinks, because Sasuke might have changed his attitude, but not that much. And mostly where Naruto is concerned, anyway. He still talks about tearing apart Konoha, which—well. It’s understandable, maybe, but rude. “Temari didn’t work the last of that crush out of your system?” he asks instead, innocent.

Sakura flushes three shades darker. “Kakashi-sensei!”

Kakashi raises his hands in surrender, trying not to giggle. Pushing her too far is likely to get him punched right out the office window, but he likes to try and take things as far as he can.

“I don’t have a crush on Sasuke,” Sakura says, wavers, and sinks down in her seat a little. “…Well, not anymore.”

“Good, good,” Kakashi says breezily. “And instead you're forging diplomatic ties with the Kazekage's sister. That’s a good sign.”

Sakura blows right through that statement with a smile she definitely learned from him. “I heard Obito was living with you now, Kakashi-sensei,” she says, and that smile is too innocent. Kakashi freezes, caught, and Sakura's expression sharpens, like a lioness realizing the gazelle she’s after has suddenly started limping. “Is everything all right? Has he tried anything?”

“If by tried anything you mean literally, then yes,” Kakashi says dryly. “He tried cooking. I don’t think my kitchen will ever recover.”

There's a blink, a pause, and then Sakura frowns thoughtfully. “And the Juubi is still…there?” she asks delicately.

Kakashi remembers facing down the thing before he’d even gotten his coffee and winces. “Very much there. We’re…adjusting.”

“Hmm.” Sakura's frown hasn’t abated much, but she doesn’t look like she’s about to march over and confront Obito, either, which is what Genma always seems on the edge of doing, so that’s probably a good sign. “Have you talked at all?

Scratch that, this is probably worse.

“Ino was in yesterday,” he says, which is a blatant change of subject but also sure to distract Sakura immediately. “She’s apprenticed herself to Ibiki in T & I. Thankfully she was in the other wing of the building for the explosion—”

Explosion?” Sakura demands, shoving to her feet so fast her chair almost tips over. “What explosion?”

“Oh,” Kakashi says shamelessly. “She didn’t mention that?”

“No,” Sakura says grimly, and tugs her gloves up. “She must have forgotten. Excuse me, Kakashi-sensei.”

Kakashi waves lazily as she storms out, then props his elbow on the desk and his cheek in his hand and looks back down at his list of potential jounin instructors. Given Konoha's state after Pein’s destruction and then the war, jounin with free time are rather hard to come by. Kakashi’s been considering tapping tokubetsu jounin as well just so there are more bodies available, and gently encouraging even the more reticent instructors to pass their teams, just to build Konoha's forces back up. It has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that Genma's stayed a tokujō for most of his life just to avoid getting saddled with a team, or the fact that Kakashi wants to laugh at his pain after all the laughing Genma did at his expense.

Decided, Kakashi scrawls out a note for the headmaster at the Academy to send him potential team lists, ranked by how much of a headache they’ll be to their instructor, then dispatches it with Bisuke and considers other possible victims. Aoba has always sworn he’ll never take a team, but he’s created several extremely valuable techniques over the years, and if any teams show a talent for interrogation or intelligence-gathering, Kakashi might tap him as well. Inoichi mentioned taking another team at some point, so he might be able to be convinced to do it now, and Shibi hasn’t taken a team yet, even though the Aburame tend to be good teachers.

What Kakashi really wants to do is call Naruto back and give him a team; it would be good for Naruto and even better for the kids, Kakashi is sure. But Naruto and Sasuke are wandering, readjusting, and Kakashi can't really bring himself to interrupt that yet.

He can't really bring himself to go home, either.

Glancing at the clock shows it’s getting late, and the sounds from the ground floor have already started to taper off as people head home. Shizune left hours ago, and Kakashi can see the faint glow of streetlights coming on outside as the sky slides towards grey and deep blue in the wake of the sunset. He stares out over the rooftops for a long moment, turning his pen in his fingers, and then breathes out.

Have you talked at all?

Because it’s so easy to sum up almost twenty years of devotion to a ghost. Twenty years of hatred towards a shadow. Once again Kakashi and Obito existed on opposite ends of a spectrum, caught in the wheels as events churned forward using them as grist. This time, though, there's no definitive end to their parallel paths, nothing as stark and sharp as Obito's supposed death the first time around. Just a confusing morass, a swamp lying between them, full of the bodies of all the people Obito has killed and all the bonds he’s broken.

It wouldn’t, Kakashi thinks wryly, be nearly as severe a crime if a lot of those hadn’t been Konoha shinobi. If those involved hadn’t been a Kage and his wife, and a threat to Konoha's jinchuuriki. If Obito had stuck to terrorizing other countries, Konoha would probably give him a slap on the wrist, keep him out of sight for a while and then slide him back into the ranks. It’s the fact that he attacked Konoha that’s the sticking point here, and Kakashi is all too aware of it.

And now, after his surrender in the war, he wants to live a normal life. Kakashi would scoff, or laugh until he choked, except that it’s the only reason they won the war. It’s the only reason Konoha is still standing, pretending they can contain the Juubi with a few seals and a couple of barriers. With Kakashi as canon fodder, should she ever lose her temper even a little.

He rubs his hands over his face, then drops his pen and gets to his feet. In the shadows, one of his guards stirs—Iwashi again, Kakashi thinks, though he’s not entirely sure—but Kakashi says, “I'm using shunshin to get home, you're dismissed,” before he can emerge. He doesn’t want a tagalong tonight, when every nerve is already strung tight and he’s twitchy as it is. Going back to the house will be hard enough, knowing what’s waiting for him.

Kakashi wonders, suddenly, if this is how things are going to be for the rest of his life. He’s never really considered starting a family, or even dating consistently, but—if he did, would he have to bring them back to the house he shares with a monster? Would the Juubi smile at his dates over breakfast, that barely-human expression with an alien behind it? Is he going to spend the rest of his life avoiding going home, working long hours each day and training on his days off, just so he doesn’t have to face Obito?

It doesn’t seem like a sustainable system. Maybe, at some point, they’ll be able to mark Obito as someone who isn't an immediate threat, shuffle him off to another house with slightly looser seals, but that seems like a far-off possibility. For now, Kakashi has the Juubi and her host as roommates, and there's no changing it.

Of course, there's another option. Kakashi could sit down with Obito and have a serious conversation about what happened in the past, all the mixed feelings left between them, Kakashi’s adoration that turned so starkly into horror. Quite frankly, though, Kakashi would rather drive a dull kunai through each of his fingers in succession and then take a dip in an acid bath. For now, the only course of action is to grit his teeth and just keep slogging through.

This is, Kakashi suspects, something of a recurring theme in his life.

Since he already told Iwashi he was leaving, and lingering any longer might invite concern—or Genma, coming to pick up his boyfriend and walking into a situation where Kakashi might possibly potentially look emotional in any fashion and therefore invite inquiry into his feelings—Kakashi wastes no time unlatching the window and leaping out, triggering a shunshin in midair and reappearing in a whirl of leaves on the peak of the Administration Building’s roof. From here he can see a handful of children playing under the tree outside the Academy, where Naruto used to sit, and it makes him take a breath, not quite able to pull his gaze away. There's no particular reason, but—

They’ve come a long way, haven’t they?

Kakashi thinks of Naruto as he last saw him, just a few weeks ago, waving goodbye as he headed out of the village at Sasuke's side. There's been a letter since then, a report from Gaara about their brief stay in Suna before they headed north, so it’s not as if Kakashi has lost all touch. It’s not as if he minds, either; Naruto does best traveling, meeting people, forging connections, and it’s one of the reasons Kakashi is eyeing him for the position of Konoha's spymaster rather than its next Hokage. It’s just—very different from ten years ago, that’s all.

As he watches, he can't help but think of another boy who never had anyone to meet him, who waited as all the other children filtered out of the Academy and disappeared with friends or their families. It aches a little in his chest, and Kakashi was only in the Academy for a year, spent little time with his classmates beyond what was required of him, but he remembers seeing Obito. He even remembers the expression Obito would wear, sometimes, when Sakumo came to meet Kakashi and Obito was left behind, watching from the steps as they headed home.

Rin stayed, sometimes, but she had a family that came to pick her up as well, couldn’t spend all her time with a friend. Obito was alone, even though there were other Uchiha in their class he could have walked home with. Should have, given the way most of the other Uchiha children moved in a pack, ran and laughed and joked with an air of familiarity. Obito never had that; he never even tried to intrude on their group, with a care that said he’d been dissuaded before, and Kakashi runs his hand through his hair, looking down at the streets. Easier, really, to reconcile how exactly Obito's being fractured, after Rin's death, in light of those memories.

It doesn’t fix anything. It doesn’t even make Kakashi feel marginally more settled, but it’s still enough to get him up, to get him moving again. His next shunshin carries him a good distance across the village before the streets resolve themselves out of a speed-blur, and from there it’s only one more quick jump to reach the front gate of the mansion.

The ANBU guards are in the tree by the entrance, and Kakashi returns their waves but doesn’t pause to talk. It’s full dark by now, the glow of streetlights growing behind him, and Kakashi wants food and a shower and bed, not necessarily in that order. He lets himself in with a tired sigh, not mentally prepared for another conversation with Obito, or gods forbid the Juubi, and maybe it’s cowardly, but he hopes Obito is very firmly somewhere else.

Of course, Kakashi never gets what he wants, so when he walks into the kitchen with the intention of getting a glass of water and checking the fridge, Obito is at the table. Kakashi freezes, debating whether his dignity will recover if he turns and bolts, but before he can make a decision, there's a soft breath. Obito picks his head up from where he was slumped on the table, blinking in the sudden light, and glances up at Kakashi.

“Bakashi,” he says, and rubs a hand over his eyes. Rises, ignoring the way Kakashi tenses faintly, and adds, “Next time don’t just say late, asshole.”

Kakashi blinks, but Obito pushes past where he’s standing in the doorway, disappearing up the stairs. The sound of his bedroom door closing is soft, but still faintly unnerving. The very last thing Kakashi wants to do is pick apart his motivations, but—

When he glances back at the table, there’s a tray with covered dishes resting in front of the place where he sat last night, the evidence of other dishes recently washed and still sitting in the drying rack. Kakashi gives them a careful, assessing glance, then lifts the first cover.

Oyakodon, looking exactly like the picture in the simplest of the cookbooks Kakashi left. It’s cold now, and Kakashi isn't overly surprised; it’s edging closer to ten already, and when he’s said late, Obito probably didn’t take it to mean this late.

Kakashi doesn’t feel guilty, though. He didn’t ask for Obito to cook for him, and he definitely didn’t ask him to hover downstairs waiting for him. This arrangement is simply the best way to make sure that the Juubi doesn’t cause any more problems, and the closest Konoha can come to punishment given Obito's refusal to die.

He’s a traitor. He’s a murderer. He killed Minato and Kushina, and countless other people.

He was never who Kakashi thought he was, and Kakashi hates him for it.

Taking a breath that shakes, Kakashi carefully, gently replaces the cover on the dish and walks away.

 

 

“If this conversation starts with you should talk to him or any variation on that theme, I'm going to assume you're renouncing all ties we might possibly have had at any point,” Kakashi warns without looking up.

Yamato pauses in the doorway, and he scowls at the top of Kakashi’s head. “That,” he says primly, “is not what I was coming to say. Not anything close, actually.”

Well, that’s a promising start, especially given how Kakashi only just managed to extract Sakura and her well-meaning insistence from his office. “Oh?” he asks, raising a brow with interest.

Yamato doesn’t sit down, just places himself in front of Kakashi’s desk, and the line of his mouth is the stubborn one Kakashi knows so well. “I’d like your permission to visit the mansion,” he says. “Even when you're not there.”

It takes Kakashi a moment to parse that. Even when you're not there has an undertone to it that says since you usually aren’t, and Kakashi is confused as to why Yamato would want to visit an empty house for about ten seconds before he remembers that it actually isn't an empty house at all.

(It’s possible Kakashi has slept in his office twice in the last week, and worked late every other day. Even when he does go home, it’s…ghostly. If he didn’t have the ANBU team’s reports on Obito's movements, he’d almost think he escaped. Kakashi can't quite tell if he’s been avoiding Obito or if Obito has been avoiding him, but it seems to amount to the same thing in the end.)

“I don’t,” he says carefully, “think that’s the best idea, Ten—”

“It’s Yamato,” he interrupts, without even waiting for Kakashi to finish, and if anything the line of his mouth gets even more stubborn. “And I think it will go fine. He hasn’t done any harm yet.”

“He’s done all the harm he needs to,” Kakashi says, and it’s rather more honest than he intends to be. Rather darker, as well, and Yamato gives him a sharp look that he has to put a little more effort into ignoring than normal.

There's a long pause, and Yamato tips his chin up. “I want to give him a book on plants,” he says, like it’s a challenge. “He’s the only other person in the village with Mokuton. He’s the only other person in the world with Mokuton.”

Kakashi notes that they're very definitely not counting Orochimaru as a person in this, which, fair. The reminder is enough to make him hesitate, though, to make him look at Yamato again, because for all the time he’s known him, Yamato has been looking for somewhere to fit, like a puzzle lost from its box. He’s mostly found it, Kakashi thinks, with how the village views him now, and yet—

He reaches for a scrap of paper, scrawls out an order to the ANBU on shift today—Hana again, because Kakashi saw her ninken as he left this morning in the pre-dawn—and rolls it up, sealing it with a drop of wax and a drop of chakra. Yamato doesn’t need to know that there's an order to keep an eye on him written there, since he’ll likely object to the protection order. Kakashi doesn’t feel anywhere close to good about this decision, though, and he’s willing to take any steps he needs to so that Yamato doesn’t end up hurt.

“Be careful,” he warns, even as he hands the note over. “He’s the Juubi.”

There's a long moment of silence, and then Yamato says, with a tone that’s almost disappointment, “He’s containing the Juubi, Kakashi-senpai. The Juubi isn't him.”

Kakashi blinks, caught off guard, and before he can collect himself Yamato turns on his heel and walks out without waiting to be dismissed. It’s easy to hear his murmured greeting to Iruka, who’s filling in for Shizune today, and then the careful, deliberate steps down the stairs. He doesn’t quite mean to, but Kakashi keeps listening long after he passes out of hearing, fingers curled tight against the edge of the desk.

The temptation to go after Yamato is hard to resist. Kakashi wants to shadow him back to the house, watch his introduction to Obito, make sure nothing happens. There's no definite reason to be sure that something will; Yamato and Obito are only passingly acquainted, and as far as Kakashi knows Obito hasn’t killed anyone Yamato loves, so there’s at least that. But—

There's a knock on the edge of the half-open door, and Iruka leans in. “Inoichi is here for your meeting, Hokage-sama,” he says formally.

Right. Because Kakashi has to worry about rebuilding their forces, and getting the next generation trained. He doesn’t have time to stalk Yamato and watch his likely disastrous meeting with the village’s most dangerous political prisoner. He stifles an annoyed sigh, but nods to Iruka and says, “Let him in.”

Later. He can deal with Obito and Yamato later. Right now he needs to actually be Hokage, even if he never wanted the hat in the first place.

 

 

“Out,” Genma orders. “Now.”

Kakashi blinks at him, and if it takes a minute for the numbers to stop spinning in front of his eyes, that’s fine. “I don’t think you're the one who’s supposed to be saying that to me,” he offers after a moment.

The line of Genma's smile is pure threat. “If your team was in the village, I’d sic them on you without hesitation, Kakashi. But they're not, and you're being dumber than usual, so now it’s my job. Get your ass out of that chair, or I’ll make you.”

“You're really not supposed to be talking to me like that,” Kakashi decides, and gives his chief babysitter a raised brow. “Do I really need to write you up for insubordination?”

“Call it a coup,” Genma says, sweet as poison, and tips his head. “Iwashi.”

Iwashi, who is a cheat and a filthy traitor, obligingly moves from his post behind Genma's left shoulder and circles around to grip the back of Kakashi’s chair. “You might want to listen to him,” he says.

Treachery,” is Kakashi’s only response, even as Iwashi wheels him out from behind the desk. “Genma,” he whines, brought to a halt in front of the uncompromising scowl of his Guard Platoon Commander. “It’s not even noon yet.”

“And you’ve already gotten all of the day’s work done,” Genma counters with killing cheer. “I guess that’s what happens when you start at the ass-crack of dawn. Now, are you going to get up, or are we going to have to use force?”

“I can't believe anyone has ever wanted to date you,” Kakashi says, maybe a little spitefully, and Iwashi sighs and tips Kakashi right out of the chair.

Because he is absolutely a mature adult and also entirely dignified, Kakashi refuses to catch himself, and hits the floor on his ass right at Genma's feet.

Genma does not seem particularly impressed by this show of quiet rebellion.

“You can walk home or Raidō will throw you over his shoulder like a sack of rice and carry you there,” Genma tells him frankly. “I’d prefer the latter, because then it lets people see what an absolute brat out Hokage is, but I'm willing to allow you the dignity of a choice, seeing as I'm a generous, warm-hearted person.”

“You're a cruel and vicious bastard,” Kakashi corrects, but when he casts an assessing glance at Raidō, the big man gives him a faintly bashful smile that says he’s perfectly happy playing Genma's muscle. Clearly, no help is coming from that quarter.

“Please stop insulting my boyfriend,” Iwashi says, but he’s grinning. “Otherwise I might be forced to stand back and watch while he defends his honor, and I left my popcorn at home.”

“I'm going to throw all of you in the deepest bowels of the prison and lose the records,” Kakashi says, but it’s resigned, and he reaches out, waving an expectant hand at Genma. Because he’s not wholly terrible, Genma grabs his hand and pulls him to his feet, then claps him on the shoulder.

“The rest of the Guard Platoon has orders to tranq you on sight,” he says cheerfully, and Kakashi takes back every thought about him being not-awful. “Go home, Kakashi.”

“There's only one Hokage in this room, and I don’t remember it being you.” Even so, Kakashi steps safely out of stabbing range, because he’s never actually known Genma to bluff. Threaten, of course, but he’s never had a problem with the follow-through.

“Even Minato took days off,” Genma says, because he always knows precisely where to hit for maximum damage. “And don’t even try heading for the training grounds. Gai knows how things stand, and he’s not going to challenge you for at least forty-eight hours.”

The fact that Genma is Gai's former genin teammate has never been more inconvenient. Primly, Kakashi straightens his flak jacket, and lies, “I wasn’t planning on it.”

“Of course.” Genma's smile calls bullshit louder than words possibly could. “Goodbye, Kakashi.”

Kakashi leaves, but only because he’d been meaning to stretch his legs anyway, and Genma was right in saying he’s gotten most of the day’s work done. Most of the week’s work done, even; spending every waking hour in his office is good for his productivity, at the very least.

He could, in theory, test his ability to avoid Genma's minions by sneaking back into the office as soon as he’s certain Genma has left, but…once he’s out of the office, it’s not an entirely objectionable place to be. The day is clear, muggy with the heat of the oncoming summer, and there's the barest edge of dark clouds to give the horizon definition. Kakashi stands on the street corner for a moment, debating where to go, but the biggest draw on him right now is his bedroom, the idea of his own mattress and his Icha Icha, a fondness for a particular scene he’s been thinking about. He could reread that, stretched out in the sun on his mattress, and the temptation is enough to make him feel a bit easier about the thought of facing the Juubi. Facing Obito, which somehow feels even more daunting.

He won the war for us, Kakashi thinks, tucking his hands into his pockets as he starts down the road. He won the war, but he was the one who started it in the first place.

There's no easy answer here. Obito's change of heart seems complete enough, and he certainly hasn’t done anything since Konoha dragged him back and threw him in an entirely inadequate jail cell. He’s even been something like polite, and Kakashi hates the pieces of himself that want to believe it, take it as genuine and pull Obito back into his life without hesitation. It’s possible that spite against those thoughts is a very large part of why he’s been fighting so hard against all of this.

With a sigh, Kakashi ruffles his hair, but keeps moving, and when he reaches the mansion he doesn’t hesitate to let himself inside. It’s…quiet. Very quiet.

Belatedly, Kakashi turns to look for the ANBU guard, because there's not even a hint of movement inside. One of them—Sai, going by the crop top—waves cheerfully, then points towards the back of the house. Kakashi raises a hand in thanks, a flicker of suspicion sparking somewhere in his chest, but he makes the turn, heads around the back instead of going inside and follows the path of paving stones to the edge of the ornamental garden. It’s small, perfectly neat and perfectly empty, and Kakashi frowns as he scans the paths. No sign of—

A hand taps his shoulder, and the ANBU member waves to the left, then gives Kakashi an all calm here sign before she steps back.

“Thanks,” Kakashi says, a little warily, but he follows the gesture. He hasn’t explored this part of the property yet, set it aside with a vague for later when he’d moved in, and it’s definitely less obsessively cared for. The grass is too long, and the trees here lean just a bit more ominously, not the neat, polite growth of the village proper. The path is almost invisible, a track worn into the dirt by the passage of feet, and there are a few signs of recent use, bent grass and shifted stones and the smell of bodies upon the trail. Kakashi follows, down a hill and out of sight of the house, and comes to a stop at the very edge of a low wooden fence.

It’s the vegetable garden, Kakashi thinks, a little bemused. Vegetable jungle, really, more than anything—it’s clear this area hasn’t been tended to in a while, and though there are a few signs of someone having attempted to tackle the growth, it’s also clear to see that they're not doing it in a way Kakashi would think of. Not tamed, really, but left to run wild, guided vaguely in a garden-shape, and it makes for a strange, half-abandoned feeling even though the scent of bodies within is clear.

One body, right now. Kakashi lifts his head just a little to catch the lazy drift of the breeze, breathes in, and—

Obito doesn’t smell the same. There's very little that reminds Kakashi of the little boy he used to be, who was dango and dust and an edge of salty tears. Now he’s something different, green, twisted growth in the depths of the dark, blood and bruises and something touched with tired peace.

Kakashi breathes out, then shakes the smell out of his nose, wishing he hadn’t checked.

Tenzō was here, though. Yamato. Recently, too, though he’s not here now. Cautious, Kakashi thinks, but he can't smell any fresh blood, any pain. The ANBU didn’t mention anything, either, and Kakashi can check on him later. For now, there's a faint itch of curiosity, a little more wariness. He pushes forward, ducking under a sprawl of bean plants that are just turning from flower, and follows the narrow lane that comes clear as he walks. It’s half-buried, but the plants look ravenously healthy, verdant and unsettlingly large. Kakashi eyes them, sidestepping an eggplant that’s twice as large as he’s sure it should be, makes a turn around a tangle of tomatoes—

Stops. Stops dead, blinking, because his brain is trying to catch up with his eyes but it’s not working.

Glancing up from the neat pile of weeds he’s collecting, Obito warns, “Watch that marigold, Bakashi.”

Automatically, Kakashi takes one half-step to the left, not entirely sure which bit of greenery Obito means but slightly too unnerved to ask directly. He can't quite manage to look away from Obito, who is without a doubt the most unnatural-looking thing he’s ever seen. Especially here, surrounded by nature; he’s too pale, too strange, eerie-looking and awful, and yet he’s on his knees in the dirt, weeding, with dirt under his black fingernails and a streak of mud on his forehead. There's a leaf caught in his hair, and another on the spines jutting from his shoulder blades, and the mismatched horns have been wrapped in a length of flowering bindweed like the oddest crown Kakashi has ever seen.

“What,” Kakashi starts, then realizes there's absolutely no question that can encompass all of his bewilderment.

Obito frowns at him, which does nothing for the strangeness of the picture he makes. There's a trumpet-shaped white flower drooping right above his Rinnegan eye, and Kakashi just wants him to stop. “I'm gardening,” he says, as if that’s any sort of explanation. “This whole thing was overgrown.”

It’s still overgrown, Kakashi wants to point out. “Isn't the Juubi…” He stops, not sure how to finish that sentence, but Madara had definitely implied that the Juubi hated everything natural and wanted to devour all chakra. These plants have chakra in them. Kakashi would have thought—

Obito snorts, shifting back to sit on his heels. “The hatred of the natural world was Kaguya’s,” he says. “Not Datara’s. When she got rid of all the pieces that were still Kaguya or the God Tree, she stripped those out, too.”

It takes a second for Kakashi to work through that. The Juubi deliberately stripped those parts out. She got rid of them, did away with them, and left the parts she wanted behind. That’s—interesting.

It makes him wonder, just a little, if she did the same thing to Obito as well.

The horror of that thought claws its way up his throat, even though it shouldn’t. Makes him remember the instant on the battlefield, the way Madara and Obito planned to control the Juubi as it emerged, how Obito had made the connection and then just—stopped.

The Juubi had turned away from the dead Hokage, had turned away from all the assembled forces, and stared at Obito with her one eye, frozen like a nightmare waiting to fall. And then, without warning, she’d swatted Madara. Like a fly, an irritation, an annoyance. She’d sent him flying away and leaned in, massive and monstrous and a thousand times Obito's size, but she had crouched down right in front of him and crooned.

The look that dawned on Obito's face at that moment, bewilderment and wonder and understanding and relief, has stayed with Kakashi ever since. But now, in light of Obito's words, he has to wonder what about Obito caught her attention. His mind, or his malleability?

Easier to think about the way the bindweed crown Obito is wearing has started putting off shoots. “You're…” Kakashi trails off, because the only word he can think of is growing, and waves a hand at his own head in illustration.

Obito blinks, reaches up. The bindweed, with a life of its own, cheerfully twines creepers around his fingertips, and Obito has to firmly shake them off. “Oh,” he says, and smiles.

Kakashi just. Kind of stares.

“Yamato,” Obito says in explanation, and drops his hand. “He’s never grown a vegetable garden before.”

“Have you?” Kakashi asks, a little startled by the implication.

Obito gives him an odd look. “I grew up on an orphan’s allowance, Bakashi,” he says tartly. “If I wanted to eat, I had to grow at least part of my food, or just live on ramen or something.”

Startling, to remember that Obito and Naruto grew up in the same situation. That Obito, even as an Uchiha, might as well have existed alone except when Rin was beside him. Kakashi thinks, again, of turning away from Obito on the steps of the Academy, running towards his father, and—

What would have happened if he’d glanced back? What would he have seen? What if he’d been willing to share his father’s attention, or had thought about the indignant, argumentative boy who thought he was as good as Kakashi and tried so desperately to prove it, even when he fell short?

“It was a good garden,” Obito says, and when Kakashi drags his gaze back to him, he’s smiling, just a little. Reaching out, he touches the top of a daikon, just starting to show through the soil, and snorts. “A couple of other people on the street were always jealous. They kept wanting to know what trick I was using.”

Minato didn’t often put them on D-ranks, because of the war, but Kakashi belatedly recalls that the few times he did—punishment, usually—Obito never seemed to mind the weeding or gardening missions nearly as much as Kakashi and Rin did. Practiced, Kakashi supposes now. He’d just…never thought about it.

He didn’t do much thinking about Obito, ever, right up until Obito died for him.

“Are you actually home for the day, or did ANBU lose sight of me and call you back in a panic?” Obito asks, glancing up. His gaze is faintly wary, and it makes something in Kakashi’s chest feel…fractured. Sharp around the edges and through the middle.

“Genma kicked me out of my office,” he says lightly, even though his throat feels tight. “It was awful. There were threats of bodily harm and promises of torture.”

“Genma?” Obito asks, surprised, and then snorts. “It’s always the quiet ones.”

“He’s not that quiet,” Kakashi says, because he was in ANBU with Genma. “I know a lot more about his dating history and his boyfriends’ kinks than I ever wanted to.”

“He should have tried that to get you out of the office,” Obito says, because clearly he’s evil in the same way Genma is, as well as all the other ways. Kakashi gives him a pitiful face, and he laughs, low and rough. A thread pulls in Kakashi’s chest, something sharp and startling, but he ignores it, crushes it down and looks past Obito, into the green depths of the garden.

“If this is a very subtle attempt to take over Konoha, you should be aware that even Mokuton plants burn,” he says, and it sounds light even though he really does mean it.

Obito rolls his eyes, but he gathers up the pile of weeds he’s collected and rises to his feet. “Yeah, Bakashi. You caught me. I really want to take over Konoha with a patch of tomatoes and some mildly stunted kabocha. Foiled again.”

“Well, Sasuke won't argue.” Kakashi eyes the kabocha in question, which doesn’t look at all stunted and is currently the height of a man as it looms over them. It doesn’t seem bothered by the insult, but he follows Obito out of the area anyway, sticking just a little closer than he otherwise might.

Obito drops the weeds along the edge of the fence, like the bodies of opponents meant to serve as a warning to any other weeds that might trespass, then pauses. He doesn’t look back at Kakashi, but says, “Did you need me for something? Does Ibiki have a new method to test?”

Kakashi’s next breath feels like it rattles in the hollow of his chest. Ibiki hasn’t come to him with any new methods of execution recently—not since Obito and the Juubi destroyed half of the T & I building—but…there's no saying that he won't at some point. And then Kakashi will pack Obito up, send him off to see if Ibiki can manage to kill him this time. That’s the punishment for what he did, after all. It’s what is right.

“Don’t sound so eager,” Kakashi says, but the joke tastes sour in his mouth.

Obito's smile is thin and humorless. “I've never wanted to die, Kakashi,” he says flatly. “No matter how bad things got. My own existence is all I have, and I’ll never give up on it.”

But you died for me, Kakashi almost says, but he traps the words in his throat before they can emerge. It’s not really something he can relate with, honestly. There were so many years, after Rin, after Minato, where he didn’t give a damn if he made it through a mission or not. He finished them out of some sense of professionalism, a little trace of pride in his work, but it was never a fight for survival, because Kakashi didn’t care about that part of the outcome. Just that he’d finish the mission.

Maybe, in light of that, people like Gai and Asuma were right to worry about him back then.

“We don’t want the Juubi to blow up the village,” he finally manages to get out. “She made it clear that she wouldn’t let us hurt you.”

The line of Obito's mouth flattens into something bitter. “If you think you can suppress us you’ll execute us immediately,” he says, sounding unimpressed with Kakashi’s reasoning. “Have you thought about what happens afterwards, though?”

Kakashi blinks. “Afterwards?” he asks. “Well, I assume you go somewhere dark, and Rin is waiting there to punch you in the face for what you did in her name—”

Obito gives him a look, like that isn't exactly what Rin is going to do the second she sees Obito again. “To Datara,” he clarifies. “We’re more of a we than most jinchuuriki, but we’re—I'm still just her host. If I die, she disperses into chakra and then reforms. And given how strong she is, it won't take her long.”

Oh, Kakashi thinks, and a chill slides down his spine as he tries to catch his breath. He’d just—been thinking of the Juubi and Obito as the same entity. Kill one and they both died, he’d assumed. But if that’s not the case at all, if they do manage to execute Obito and then have to deal with an angry, possessive Juubi barreling down on them because they killed the host she ended a war for—

Well. Kakashi’s lunch sits in an uneasy lump in his stomach at the thought. That’s not comforting at all.

“You could just be saying that so we don’t kill you,” he points out, though it’s hard to get the words out of his mouth.

“I don’t need to,” Obito says, which is somehow even less comforting. “You’re not going to be able to get around Datara. I just wanted to see if you’d considered all the possible outcomes.”

“You were terrible at thinking through the outcomes as a child,” Kakashi says, only partly a joke. “What changed?”

Obito looks away, and the line of his scaled shoulders in the sun is something distant, tight. The spines seem smaller, though Kakashi can't tell if it’s just his imagination or not. “I got stuck with Uchiha Madara for a year,” he says flatly. “Minato at least drew a line at breaking bones if I didn’t progress fast enough. That was the least of what Madara would do. But he taught me a lot.”

Kakashi feels sick, or maybe just tired. It goes a long way towards explaining how Obito was able to match Minato in a fight barely a year after his supposed death, and why he seemed to hate Madara so much on the battlefield. At the time, seeing them together, Kakashi had put it down to two large egos sharing the same space, and yet—

He swallows, looks back towards the house, and doesn’t let himself glance back at Obito again.

“Shinobi training with an edge of madness?” he says and can't quite manage to make it light.

Obito snorts. “I think it was just shinobi training, Clan Wars style,” he says. “Though the madness may have had something to do with it.”

It’s strange to think that the world is kinder now than it was, but Kakashi supposes it must be for the villages to have stayed as they are. The clans would have split apart again quickly if being part of the village didn’t benefit them.

Then again, there are three world wars to prove that the system isn't quite what it could be.

“Do you know why Madara picked you?” he asks, even though he isn't entirely sure he wants the answer.

This time, Obito looks at him, and his smile is a terrible, bitter thing. “He took any kid he thought would make a good test subject,” he says. “Uchiha, or Uzumaki, or Hyuuga—he even said something about grabbing a Senju boy once. Off the battlefield, or out of the village, or just while they were on a mission. I was just one more he found, and I was convenient because he could graft so many of Hashirama’s cells to my body. The only difference is I survived the experiments, and no one else did.”

He turns, picks up a basket of gardening tools and starts towards the house, but Kakashi can't move. He stares after Obito's retreating form, at the shimmer of scales and the white of his hair and the eerie colorlessness of his skin, and thinks of Madara plucking injured children from the edges of the war. Thinks of how he must have come across Obito's body, clinging to the last little bit of life beneath the rocks, and taken him home to—to experiment on.

Maybe, in some part of him, Kakashi has been thinking that Madara chose Obito. That he handpicked a destined successor for reasons of potential and talent and drive. He’s never considered that Obito was simply the one experiment who survived.

Maybe Obito and Yamato’s ability to get along is slightly less surprising, in light of that.

 

 

There's a naked man in Kakashi’s living room, and Kakashi didn’t have any part in getting him that way.

For a long moment, he stands in the middle of the floor, not quite able to tear his eyes away from Obito where he sits half-sprawled on the couch, one foot on the floor and the other propped up on the cushions. He has one of Kakashi’s Icha Icha books lifted over his face, and he’s squinting at the pages like he can't quite figure something out. He also has no clothes of any kind on, and Kakashi can see with perfect clarity that the carpet really does match the drapes, which he’d vaguely sort of wondered about at two in the morning on a particularly sleepless night last week. Mystery solved, now. Though…maybe not the mystery of why Obito's bare ass is planted on Kakashi’s couch.

Kakashi hasn’t even had his coffee yet. He’s not prepared to deal with this.

“Obito?” Kakashi says carefully. “I think you forgot something.”

Obito blinks, turns his head as he lowers the book, and—

Oh.

“We are invulnerable,” the Juubi says. “There is no need for protection from the elements now.”

The fact that Obito would explain gardening and, apparently, romance novels to her and not clothes is…very much an Obito thing, probably, Kakashi reflects. “That’s not—”

“I didn’t think the numbers of limbs varied much in your species,” the Juubi says, and she’s looking at the book again, frowning like it’s a particularly puzzling math problem.

Kakashi really, really is not ready for this conversation. “It doesn’t,” he says. “Sometimes people can lose limbs, or be born without them—”

“Then why,” the Juubi says, in tones of perfect perplexity, “does this woman seem to have three hands?”

“You're just reading it wrong,” Kakashi says loyally, because Jiraiya may have missed a few things here and there in the editing but his books are art.

The Juubi's frown doesn’t abate. “We don’t think so,” she says skeptically.

Kakashi is not about to argue the merits of Icha Icha and reading it for the intended impact of the scene rather than focusing on the mechanics. Especially not when he can see Obito's dick, and it looks suspiciously scaly.

That, for the record, was not a question Kakashi had and also very much not something he wanted to know the answer to.

“Clothes aren’t just for protection from the elements, in case Obito didn’t tell you,” he says, and wonders if this is Obito's revenge. It’s subtle, but Obito apparently learned subtlety over the last two decades, so it’s not out of the question. “They're required. By society. Which you're now a part of.”

“They are constrictive,” the Juubi says, almost petulantly.

“Required,” Kakashi says again, and—this is the kind of thing Obito needs to deal with, not Kakashi. He’s not the host of the immortal inhuman chakra beast from the dawn of time. “Ask Obito to explain modesty to you.”

There's a pause, just significant enough for Kakashi no notice that it’s there and very much not like the Juubi at all. “Obito is asleep,” she finally says, and there's an edge to her voice, something cold and flat that puts every hair on the back of Kakashi’s neck up in an instant. “I will not wake him.”

That’s—not ideal. Kakashi hesitates, wavering over whether or not to ask if this is a permanent state, if the Juubi was the one to force him into sleep, if this is going to happen often. “Is he…all right?” he finally manages.

Startlingly, the Juubi's expression eases faintly, until she no longer looks like the last thing the world will see before it dies. “He is asleep,” she says again, and then pauses. “He has not rested in a very long time.”

Kakashi isn't sure whether she means that metaphorically or just—as a statement. He wonders, too, what a very long time counts as to a creature like the Juubi.

“And you're in control until he’s done…resting?” Kakashi asks.

“Yes,” the Juubi says without hesitation. She looks down at herself, then frowns, and asks, “Clothes are required?”

“Yes,” Kakashi says, relieved. “Very required. Very necessary. Please go put some on.”

In all honesty, Kakashi could have happily gone his entire life without knowing what the Juubi looks like when she’s pouting. “But—”

“People won't talk to you if you're not wearing clothes,” Kakashi cuts in, before he can think better. “You don’t want Obito isolated when he wakes up, do you?”

“Clothes are required for interaction,” the Juubi says, like she’s testing this statement on herself. Then she lifts the Icha Icha book, and says, “But they do not often wear them in this book.”

Kakashi contemplates substituting himself with a potted plant and making a break for it. “They’re having sex. People don’t usually wear clothes for that,” he says, and before the Juubi can even open her mouth, “That’s something you definitely need Obito's permission to do in his body.”

“I wasn’t planning to attempt it,” the Juubi says, faintly offended. “Human reproductive drives are nothing like mine, but Obito has shared what he knows. It seems messy.”

What he knows. Kakashi closes his eyes, absolutely does not think about the implication there, the possibility that his former teammate is almost thirty and has never actually had sex with anyone. Maybe he’s asexual. Maybe being a supposed dead man and Madara's patsy kept him too busy to visit a brothel or pick someone up in a bar.

“It’s—very messy,” Kakashi manages after a moment. “Would you put on clothes, please?”

“Very well.” The Juubi still sounds vaguely dissatisfied, but she sets the book aside and rises to her feet, and Kakashi very carefully does not look at shifting skin or the curve of that bare ass as she passes him. This isn't Obito right now, and even if it was, Kakashi wouldn’t look. He’s absolutely sure of that.

 

 

Obito still hasn’t emerged from whatever rest he’s having by the next morning, and Kakashi skirts the Juubi carefully as he makes breakfast. Enough for two, since he’s not rude, and also it seems more than a little stupid to leave an eldritch creature hungry and waiting.

“They're fluffy,” the Juubi says, unfolding and refolding her omelet, poking at the spongy egg. “It is like eating a blanket.”

Kakashi doesn’t look at Obito's face, wide-eyed in something like wonder, with a monster just beneath his skin and straining to break through. Or maybe not, since the Juubi seems perfectly comfortable taking over Obito's body.

“Don’t eat blankets,” he says, maybe a little belatedly. “Just—stick with eggs.”

If the Juubi has any response to this bit of wisdom, it’s drowned out by a knock on the door, then the sound of it opening. “Kakashi-sensei?” Sakura calls.

Kakashi very nearly winces. Her footsteps are already approaching, though, so he raises his voice a little and says, “In the kitchen, Sakura.”

The Juubi looks up at that, blinking in the long, slow way she has. Like a cat, Kakashi thinks, if a cat was the size of a mountain and had a taste for chakra. “Sakura,” she repeats, careful, as if it’s vital she get the name right.

“That’s me,” Sakura says, and she’s smiling, even if it’s a little tense around the edges as she steps into the kitchen. Her eyes flicker over the Juubi—clothed, thankfully; they haven’t had a repeat of yesterday’s incident yet, and Kakashi is willing to be thankful for small mercies at this point—and she raises a hand in a slightly awkward wave. “And you're…”

“Datara,” the Juubi says, then tips her head, birdlike. “You are the strong kunoichi. Obito did not account for you being so strong. You surprised him.”

Sakura’s smile slides into something more genuine, maybe even a little delighted. “And you're a strong—bijuu,” she says. “None of us expected you at all.”

The Juubi apparently accepts this as her due. “Have you had eggs like this before?” she asks. “They look like clouds.”

Sakura comes several steps closer to lean right over the Juubi's shoulder, and Kakashi tenses sharply. There’s no reaction from either of them, though. Sakura just glances at the Juubi's breakfast, then says, “I have. They're a common way to eat eggs. Have you tried many other ways?”

“I have not.” The Juubi pauses, then says, “I have eaten six meals.”

Alarm flickers across Sakura's face, and she shoots Kakashi a look that’s equal parts reproach and demand for explanation.

Quickly, Kakashi raises his hands. “They survive on natural chakra,” he says.

“Survive,” Sakura says, and it’s a little tart. “That’s not the same thing as living, Kakashi-sensei.”

“They're both fine,” Kakashi tells her, in a tone that implies the argument isn't going to progress from here.

Judging by the slant of her frown, Sakura only just stops herself from commenting. Instead, she turns back to the Juubi, pulling out the chair next to her and sitting down. “Is it just you in there?” she asks. “Or is Obito still alive, too?”

The Juubi smiles, and it’s still strange and awful enough that Sakura winces faintly. “He is still here,” she says. “But he has not rested in many years. I am allowing him to rest safely while I have control.”

Instead of looking worried, Sakura's expression is thoughtful. “His mind is tired,” she says, when the Juubi nods she hums. “From Madara, and the seal on his heart?”

“And my presence,” the Juubi allows. “It is a strain he will adjust to, but time asleep will help.”

“All right,” Sakura says easily. “If you want to learn a little more about the human body so that you can tell what’s going on, I can bring you some of my medical scrolls.”

She entirely—and pointedly—ignores Kakashi’s mouthed what are you doing. Really. No respect.

“I would like to know more,” the Juubi says after a moment. “Obito does not understand how his own body works. I do my best to keep everything in order, but it is confusing.”

Sakura’s fingertips flicker green, and she holds out a hand. “May I?” she asks, even as Kakashi calculates how quickly he’ll be able to lunge across the table and grab her out of the way. Not fast enough, probably, but—

Those alien eyes study Sakura's hand, then lift to her face. “Several people have tried to put my host in a coma,” she says, uninflected, like she’s simply reporting a fact. “They tried to sever his brain’s connection to his body, as well. It will not work. I will not let it.”

Sakura's eyes widen, and she draws back. “I wasn’t going to try anything like that,” she insists. “I just wanted to see how well all of his systems were working, since you have so much chakra. Human bodies usually have a hard time with forces like that.”

“Oh.” The Juubi leans back slightly, turns face Sakura, and nods. “Very well.”

This, Kakashi reflects, is not helping his nerves at all.

Still, the Juubi doesn’t react when Sakura's hand settles in the center of her chest, doesn’t move as Sakura's chakra flickers up into a steady glow. There's a long, drawn-out silence that scrapes over Kakashi’s nerves like sandpaper, and—

Sakura pulls her hand away and says, “Oh,” very, very quietly.

The Juubi regards her, all inhuman distance and something like amused tolerance. “I maintain him,” she says, and something prickles down Kakashi’s spine. “He will not be unmade.”

Glancing up, Sakura looks from the Juubi to Kakashi and back again. “No,” she says, and lets her hand drop into her lap. “You're taking good care of him.”

“I chose him as my host, and he is mine now,” the Juubi says, like it should be self-evident. She goes back to her eggs, since apparently the conversation is of no account, but Sakura still looks a little pale. It’s enough to get Kakashi on his feet and moving.

“Sakura?” he asks. “You needed those documents?”

Naruto would stutter and flail and trip over the excuse. Sakura just takes his hand and lets him pull her from her chair. “Right,” she says. “Iruka-sensei said it wasn’t urgent, but I thought I’d come in person, since you weren’t in the office yet.”

“They're in the study,” Kakashi says, and when he steps out of the kitchen the Juubi doesn’t even glance up at their departure.

Sakura is silent up the stairs, keeps her peace right up until Kakashi has closed his office door and activated the privacy seal, and then she blows out a careful breath and crosses her arms over her chest.

“Kakashi-sensei,” she asks quietly, “has Obito ever seen someone at the hospital?”

“We were planning on executing him,” Kakashi says, and it’s dry even if his chest feels hollow. “Him being in perfect health wasn’t exactly our priority.”

Sakura frowns, sharp and unhappy. “He’s dying,” she says, and it feels like Kakashi’s heart trips over its next beat, falls out of rhythm in an instant. “Or—he was. I think he was for a long time. Slowly, but—Datara is holding him together.”

“Holding him together,” Kakashi repeats flatly, and his breath wants to rattle but he won't let it. “As in…”

“As in Madara must have had only the vaguest idea what he was doing,” Sakura says, and her voice is fierce. “His grafts—they're not perfect. They're not even close. They must hurt all the time, and unless he’s consciously holding them in place they probably start to lose their form. They're healing constantly, but they only need to because Obito's body is fighting them. It must have been fighting them for the last sixteen years.”

“And the Juubi is fixing this.” Kakashi’s voice is bland, but—he thinks of whatever feelings he might have about Obito, buried deep down under broken glass in his chest. He needs to keep them there, and—this isn't helping.

“She’s the only one who is.” Sakura hesitates, then says, “I can't—I'm not sure, but if you could extract Datara, I think Obito's body wouldn’t be able to recover. Even beyond the loss of her, he just—she’s taken over now, and her chakra is the—the glue. Without that, the grafts might just not be able to adjust to the absence of her power.”

Well, Kakashi thinks, and if there's a ringing sort of silence in his head it’s easy enough to think around it. It’s not like they would extract the Juubi in order to do anything but execute Obito anyway.

“The problem to getting there,” he says, even though the words are hard to force out, “is extracting the Juubi to begin with.”

For a long moment, Sakura stares at him, mouth drawn tight. She looks like Tsunade, Kakashi thinks, and it’s…unsettling. He would have thought she’d need a lot longer than three years to take on so much of Tsunade's personality.

“Kakashi-sensei,” she starts, then stops abruptly, closes her eyes for a moment, and shakes her head. The slant to expression is something very much like disappointment. “I know you're angry at Obito,” she says. “And that’s your right. But if you're not even going to consider the fact that he’s trying to change, maybe you should send him back to the prison instead of just keeping him here. Don’t just suffer because you think you have to, if you really don’t want him here. Neither of you deserves that.”

Kakashi can't find an answer to that, but Sakura doesn’t wait for one anyway. She turns and walks out of the room, and Kakashi can hear the sound of her steps on the stairs, the lightness of her voice when she leans into the kitchen, the two-toned answer as the Juubi responds. He thinks Sakura is making arrangements to come back with her medical scrolls at some point, but he doesn’t listen in; he’s not going to be here anyway. There are things he needs to do as Hokage, and places he needs to be that aren’t this house, that aren’t with Obito, whether that Obito is the Juubi right now or not.

Leaving through the window isn't cowardice. It’s just—shinobi training. Kakashi took yesterday off. He might as well keep things interesting today.

 

 

Kakashi doesn’t see Obito at all for the next three days straight, even though he sees the Juubi, and it’s enough to make him twitchy. He comes home, tries not to work too late, keeps a vaguely regular schedule and nods to the Juubi when he passes her in the hall, but he also doesn’t try to engage, keeps his distance because he’s not entirely sure how he should be acting around her. Him. Either of them, honestly. It’s just…confusing.

And then, halfway through the afternoon, Kakashi comes home to the smell of something that makes his mouth start watering the minute he steps in the door.

Obito, is his first thought, and the relief attached to it is almost a surprise. He passes through the hall, not even pausing to strip off his flak jacket, and pushes into the kitchen to find the now-familiar figure in front of the sink. Pauses there, wariness rising, and—

Obito turns, and it is Obito, full awareness in his eyes. He blinks when he sees Kakashi, then sets the sweet potatoes he’s holding down on counter and says, “Kakashi, you're home early. Did Genma kick you out of the office again?”

Kakashi feels like one knot of tension that’s finally released, though he carefully doesn’t let his fingers tremble where they press against the doorframe. “Iruka, this time,” he says, and it’s maybe a little rough in his throat.

Don’t just suffer because you have to. Neither of you deserves that, Sakura said, but—

It’s not suffering. Not quite. Not really. Kakashi knows what suffering feels like, and it’s not tight-hot-bright in his chest like this is.

“You're either the laziest bastard in the world or a damned workaholic,” Obito scoffs, but he doesn’t look derisive. There's no thread of anger in his voice. “Make up your mind and pick one.”

“Laziness,” Kakashi says immediately and without shame. “I haven’t reread my books in weeks.”

“Of course that’s your complaint.” Obito rolls his eyes, then tips his head at the stove. “It won't be ready for a few hours, but there’s rice and miso if you skipped lunch again.”

“Sai brought me something,” Kakashi says, and lets his gaze slide down Obito's chest. He’s not wearing a shirt again, but he has managed an apron. It says—

Kakashi could have sworn he threw that one out last year, right after Aoba gave it to him.

Will cook for sex,” he says dryly. “A bold statement, Obito.”

“Shut up, Bakashi!” Obito glares at him, but his ears have gone red, and there's color creeping across his face. “It’s your damned apron.”

“A gift,” Kakashi says in lazy defense, because he’s not the one wearing it. “If this is actually a proposition, I'm flattered, but—”

He ducks a flying potato, giggling as it rebounds off the wall above his head, and scuttles sideways out of the path of the next one. “You're wasting food,” he reprimands, ducking behind the table. “Obito, so reckless—”

“I'm going to stuff you in the oven!” Obito dodges around the other end, but Kakashi changes direction, rolls beneath the table, and comes up on the far side, still not able to contain his giggles. Obito's whole face is blotchy red, but the glittery crimson of will cook for sex is still plastered across his chest, and Kakashi can't help himself. When Obito vaults the table, he darts around the far end, catches the cup Obito flings at him, and then darts back to the other side of the island counter.

“Don’t break my dishes,” he says, and catches the chopstick holder Obito lobs at him next. “I'm your host, Obito, don’t be rude—”

Bakashi,” Obito snaps, like it’s the insult to end all insults, and jerks the apron off, wadding it up in a ball and flinging it across the room. This projectile Kakashi doesn’t even try to dodge, and it hits him in the face as he laughs, trying to stay upright through his giggles.

“I hate you,” Obito hisses, but he’s bright red and practically steaming, and Kakashi can't even breathe.

“What’s the price of curry?” he manages. “Missionary, or doggy style, or—”

Obito makes a sound like a tea kettle boiling over and stalks out of the room, still blushing.

 

 

“You were asleep for a long time,” Kakashi ventures as they're washing up after dinner, Obito drying with intense concentration and red still in the tips of his ears. It’s possibly because Kakashi hung the offending apron on the wall in clear view from every angle, because people might have a point when they call him an asshole, but Obito has been bearing up well enough. He’s only tried to set it on fire once, and Kakashi managed to put out the match before the apron could catch, so he’s counting it as a win.

Obito gives him a dirty look, even as he takes the plate Kakashi passes him. “Have you ever been perfectly safe and known it?” he asks, and it’s grudging but at least he’s talking.

Kakashi considers the question for a moment, scrubbing at a bit of grit. Once or twice, he thinks—when his father was alive, mostly, before he really knew how dangerous life as a shinobi could be. “A few times,” he allows.

Obito's eyes are very firmly fixed on the plate. “I haven’t,” he says. “Or I hadn’t. Not until Datara. When she said I could sleep, and she would take care of our body—it’s hard to get safer than that. And just…not having anything in my head for a few days—I needed that. It let me sort a few things out.”

“Like your next plan for world domination?” Kakashi asks dryly, but once Obito stacks the plate he passes over a cup without hesitation.

“Fuck off,” Obito says. “No, like—things I regret.”

It’s the first mention Obito has ever made of regretting things. Kakashi’s sponge slows, and he stares at the soap covering the surface of the water, trying to think what to say next. Before he can come to a decision, though, Obito takes a breath, and without looking at Kakashi, he says, “I'm sorry.”

Kakashi’s throat is too tight, and he can't even begin to imagine what to say.

“I'm sorry for the pain you went through because of me,” Obito says determinedly. “I regret the part I played in Minato and Kushina's deaths, and in Naruto growing up like he did, and all the lives lost when the Kyuubi attacked. And it doesn’t change anything, I know that, but—I am sorry.”

Too little, too late, Kakashi wants to say. I can't forgive you, he almost says. But—

He doesn’t even know if that’s true or not. It would have been, once. He just can't tell if it is now.

Carefully, Obito takes the last plate from his fingers and then turns away. “I’ll finish up here,” he says stubbornly. “You’d better go find your stupid porn before you go into withdrawals.”

“It’s not stupid, it’s beautiful,” Kakashi protests, but it’s on autopilot. He steps back, drying his hands off on the towel over his shoulder, then carefully folds it, sets it on the counter, and turns, heading upstairs without looking back.

It feels like there's something in his chest that’s broken, or maybe remade. Glass edged in gold, pieced back together with obvious fractures gilded to brightness, and if Kakashi moves too quickly it could all come crashing down again, but—

It’s standing steady, more or less whole, and Kakashi doesn’t want to see it fall to pieces once more.

 

 

“He’s cooking for you now?” Iwashi asks, leaning over Kakashi’s shoulder with raised brows.

“Aren’t guards supposed to be seen and not heard?” Kakashi asks dryly. “And how do you know that I didn’t make my own lunch?”

Iwashi snickers, like it’s an amusing question. “You're too lazy,” he says with an insulting level of certainty. “You're one of the best cooks I know and yet in an average week you order takeout for every meal.”

“Slander,” Kakashi says, without much heat. “I eat at restaurants, too.”

“Well, you definitely don’t take the time to make something like that,” Iwashi says, and they both spend a moment considering the careful sakura tree scene laid out in Kakashi’s bento. It’s very pretty, Kakashi admits. He’s almost reluctant to eat it, and for once that has nothing to do with the potential that Obito poisoned his food.

“I could if I wanted to,” Kakashi says, because it’s technically true. The idea came from one of his cookbooks, after all.

“Sure, but you probably wouldn’t.” Iwashi pats him on the shoulder, consoling. “I hope you said thank you.”

Kakashi can't remember if he did or not. He was slightly distracted by the argument he and Obito were having about whether or not the Juubi should try ice cream, and if so which flavor. And—

That probably says something of meaning, but Kakashi isn't thinking about it too closely.

Thankfully, the sound of raised voices comes before Iwashi can keep talking, and in an instant he’s gone, vanished back into the shadows. A moment later, the door opens, and Genma stalks in, Iruka tripping in his wake as he squawks out a protest.

Kakashi,” Genma says, and that’s the dangerous I'm angry and someone is about to get stabbed with a neurotoxin voice Kakashi remembers so well from ANBU. He slams a paper down on Kakashi’s desk, and demands, “You gave me a genin team?”

“Congratulations,” Kakashi says cheerfully, slouching back in his chair. He leaves his bento where it is, because he really does want to get to his lunch at some point soon. “I'm so happy for you.”

“You,” Genma says dangerously, “are an asshole.”

Beaming, Kakashi twiddles his fingers at him. “Have fun.”

Genma makes a sound of inarticulate rage and grabs the form again. “They’d better be the least troublesome team in the history of Konoha,” he threatens, then turns on his heel and stalks out, slamming the door behind him as Iruka hurries to get the next one before he can do damage to it.

There's a long moment of silence as Kakashi basks in the knowledge that he’s finally riled the unflappable Genma up enough to actually yell in public, and his guards likely recover from the trauma of hearing their commander scream at their Hokage. Then, slowly, Iwashi leans out of a shadow, the rest of his body still cloaked, and whistles, long and low.

“Wow,” he says. “If you weren’t my honored leader I might be tempted to call you a suicidal moron, Hokage-sama.”

Kakashi spins in his chair, because really, this is his victory lap. “The angry sex will be amazing,” he reminds Iwashi.

Iwashi snorts. “It’s going to take both me and Raidō to wear him out,” he retorts. “You gave him the worst team, didn’t you?”

Kakashi plucks the pile of assessments from the corner of his desk, flips through the pages, and taps the teacher’s comments on this particular trio. “Promising, eager, and wholly dedicated to whatever they put their minds to, when they can be directed,” he reads. “With a penchant for truly impressive creativity when bored.”

“Holy hell,” Iwashi mutters. “You gave him the worst team.”

“They sound spirited,” Kakashi defends, perfectly innocent.

“They sound like monsters,” Iwashi tells him. “Genma is going to garotte you in your sleep.”

Kakashi makes a mental note to double-check the seals on his bedroom. “I'm sure he’ll do fine.”

Iwashi mutters something that could be a prayer, but the door opens again, sending him ducking back into the shadows. Kakashi glances up curiously, then pauses at the sight of Hana in the doorway, breathing hard.

“Hana?” he asks, already rising to his feet. She had a shift guarding Obito today, he knows that. “What’s happened?”

“We found Kō unconscious on the west side of the property,” she reports. “He was unharmed, but I called in the reserve squads. They’re sweeping the area now.”

Unconscious. Kakashi breathes out, trying to think. Kō is a Hyuuga, from the Main House, and one of the better jounin. His Byakugan can cover the entirety of the house and most of the land around it, so taking him out was undoubtedly a tactical move. “Obito?” he asks, and Hana falls in on his heels as he heads for the window.

“He was in the garden,” she says. “Kō was the only one who had direct line of sight until the scouts returned. They weren’t gone more than five minutes.”

But that was enough, apparently. Was, Kakashi thinks, and something cold is seeping out through his veins. “No sign of him since?” he asks.

Hana shakes her head. “All of the wards and barriers are still in place,” she says. “It’s like he walked right through them and didn’t set them off.”

Kakashi certainly wouldn’t put it past the Juubi's capabilities, but—it doesn’t feel right. Obito hasn’t once tried to leave the house, doesn’t even seem to want to. He gardens, cooks, reads in the library, sometimes takes short walks around the perimeter—

But. Obviously he did leave. Kakashi can't overlook that just because they were joking together this morning. Kō was found unconscious. Obito is gone. He must have knocked the Hyuuga out once the scouts were out of sight and left while he wouldn’t be seen. Except why would he bother, if he knew nothing could stop him? Why knock out the guard? Why not kill him? If Kō had disappeared too, they would have wasted time looking for him. An unconscious body was an immediate tell that something had happened.

In a whirl of leaves, Kakashi touches down on the roof of the Hokage Mansion, tugs up a skylight and drops through it. He lands on the railing of the stairway, then leaps lightly off to land on the ground floor. There's a sharp smell in the air, oddly familiar; over-steeped tea, Kakashi thinks, taking a breath of it. Would Obito really leave tea to steep if he was planning to escape? Or, since he clearly did, why would he?

With a soft thump, Hana lands behind him, while Iwashi touches down on the landing. Her nose immediately wrinkles, and she tips her head. “Do you have rotting plants in here?” she asks, reaching up to rub her nose.

Rotting plants, Kakashi thinks, and closes his eyes. He remembers a smell like that, but—the last place he smelled it was the battlefield, during the Fourth War.

“Get Kō conscious again,” he tells Hana. “I want to know if he saw anything. Iwashi, find Yūgao. I want every available ANBU sweeping the village for anything suspicious. Then get Tsume and her best trackers—get them on the scent.”

There's a moment of silence. “And where are you going to be?” Iwashi finally asks.

Kakashi gives him a humorless smile. “Doing what I should have done at the end of the war,” he answers, and tips his hitai-ate straight, then calls up a shunshin and vanishes in a whirl of leaves.

 

 

Without the excess of guards, the prison feels almost deserted. There's a hush over the stone halls, an eerie sort of silence like the building is holding its breath, and Kakashi slips through the halls on silent feet, headed for solitary. The wing is still empty, and all the door stand open, adding to the abandoned feeling.

The very furthest cell in the block stands open, the door ajar, and Kakashi pushes it the rest of the way open as he steps in. The hinges creak loudly, but the occupant doesn’t turn to look at him, just keeps his gaze fixed on the narrow slit in the wall above him. After a second, Kakashi lets out a breath, then crosses the cell, sinking down next to him on the cold stone floor.

“Is the guard okay?” Obito asks quietly.

Kakashi hums, stretching his legs out in front of him. “Unconscious,” he says. “But he should be all right.”

Obito's next breath shudders out of him, and he drops his forehead to his knees, wrapping his arms around his legs. “Fuck,” he mutters.

Kakashi reaches out, traces a fingertip down one of the spines jutting from Obito's shoulder blades. “I didn’t realize you hated Hyuuga Kō that much,” he says mildly.

Obito laughs, rough and fractured. “I get everyone around me killed,” he says. “How was I supposed to know that for once I didn’t quite manage it?”

At the base of the spines, Kakashi flattens his palm against the dead-white skin of Obito's back, traces the pad of his thumb along the edge of a scar-turned-scale. “So you decided to go back to prison?” he asks dryly. “Selfless of you.”

“Shut up,” Obito mutters but he doesn’t lift his head. “I just—I can't—”

“We’ll find Zetsu,” Kakashi says quietly, and Obito goes so still beneath his hand that it’s like he’s stopped breathing.

“Oh,” Kakashi says shamelessly. “Was that supposed to be a secret? Oops.”

Obito doesn’t seem impressed by the humor. “Bakashi,” he hisses. “He was—we’re just—if we’re here, things like that are going to keep happening. People are going to want to use us. And if there are people around us, they’re going to get hurt.”

Kakashi mulls this over for a moment, tracing his fingers across the marks carved into Obito's side. Scars, gained when Obito saved his life, turned into something else when Obito and the Juubi merged. The feel of them is interesting. Not quite skin, but not quite scar tissue anymore, but laid into Obito's body forever.

He curls his hand over Obito's side, and says, “I forgive you.”

Obito makes a sound like a laugh, except there's nothing of humor in it. No light, only grim darkness and something like despair. “Fucking why?” he demands.

It takes a second for Kakashi to consider the question, but he doesn’t lift his hand. “Because I want to,” he finally settles on. “Because you did things I hate, terrible things, but you're alive. You want a normal life, even if your body is a timeshare with a monster of mortal nightmare.”

You alive and in Konoha is all I've wanted for almost twenty years, he doesn’t say. I walk into the house and you're waiting for me, and it’s everything I never thought I could ever have.

“You're so stupid,” Obito rasps, but he lifts his head, turns, and Kakashi pulls him close even as he leans in. Obito's mismatched horns bump his collarbone, but Kakashi doesn’t flinch, can't even bring himself to want to. He nudges Obito's head up, resettles him, pulls him close, and curls his fingers into white hair.

“Don’t insult your Hokage like that,” he protests without heat.

“It’s true,” Obito retorts, though he noticeably doesn’t move. Breathes out, faintly shaky, and curls his fingers into Kakashi’s flak jacket. “We were going to leave, but we killed him instead,” he says. “We—I lost it. Zetsu was going to kill you, and we—we destroy, we don’t protect. But we don’t want to kill anyone else.”

A few weeks ago, Kakashi might not have believed him.

He does now, though.

Obito has regrets. He might be a monster, but he’s a kind Kakashi knows all too well, and Konoha is a decent place for monsters of that kind. Kakashi should know.

“I think you’d be just fine at protecting someone. You just did, didn’t you?,” he says, and Obito's Rinnegan eye slips open, looks up at him. Kakashi wonders when that stopped being so unsettling. “If you stay close, no one else have a chance to hurt me.”

“You just want free access to torture me all day,” Obito mutters, but he curls in tighter to Kakashi’s chest, settles there, and Kakashi wraps both arms around him, breathes out long and slow. He wonders, for half a second, about the picture they must make, Obito pale and monstrous in the low light but curled in Kakashi’s lap, letting himself be clutched close. Insane, Kakashi thinks, but—

He doesn’t move, and he doesn’t particularly want to, either.

“What did Zetsu want, exactly?” he asks.

Obito shakes his head, thankfully careful of his horns. “I thought he was Madara's will in human form,” he says. “But Datara says he was older than that. Kaguya’s will, maybe.”

The evil goddess sealed in the moon, Kakashi thinks, and wonders how this got to be his life. “Could he have wanted Kaguya unsealed?” he asks, because that’s the logical answer.

After a moment, Obito tips his head in a nod. “Probably,” he says, muffled. “But Datara doesn’t want to go back to being Kaguya, and I don’t want to be Zetsu’s fucking pawn anymore, either.”

“Then don’t think of it as killing him, think of it as trapping Kaguya forever and escaping from her plans,” Kakashi says, because sometimes the easiest solution really is the best, and a shinobi’s fluid morals have to be good for something. And then, because he’s thought about it more than once, he adds, “Killing Zetsu is easier than blowing up the moon, and that was my fallback plan.”

“You're stupid and suicidal,” Obito informs him, and makes a sound like a grumpy cat. “Datara thinks it would have been a good idea.”

“You should listen to us instead of calling us names,” Kakashi says, and he gives in to the impulse to touch Obito's horns, stroking his thumb down the faint curve of the longer one. A shiver slides though Obito, obvious and intriguing, and Kakashi does it again just because.

“The only one I'm calling names is you.” There's no heat to the words, and Obito turns his head just a little, his breath hitching faintly when Kakashi’s thumb grazes the base of his horn.

Interesting, Kakashi thinks, and does it again, more deliberately this time. Obito's shiver slides across his skin, complete with hitching breath, and Kakashi smiles a little to himself.

“I’ve noticed,” he says, with a martyred sigh. “You're very rude and abrasive, Obito.” Pauses, deliberately drags his fingers down the longer horn, and says with perfect innocence, “I think it’s a reaction to being so horny.”

There's a moment of perfect silence. Then, slowly, Obito turns his head, and his Sharingan eye is narrowed. “What?” he asks dangerously.

“Horny,” Kakashi repeats helpfully, and when he flicks a fingernail against the base of Obito's horn it gets him a beautiful jump and squeak. “You're a very horny person now, aren’t you—”

He has to use a substitution with an abandoned wrapper in the hall when Obito tries to headbutt that horn right through his lung, but it’s entirely worth it.