A small roadside tavern sat off the coast of Fire Country. It was half a day’s travel to the ocean, a week and a half to Rivers and a solid month away from Konoha. The body of the small business was built up by aged wood that triggered nostalgia in the minds of patrons sat at the outdoor tables. The world was sky-bright and sunshine for the first time after a long series of heavy storms and travellers were more than ready to take advantage of it.
Amongst those travellers was Kakashi Hatake.
Before him sat a steaming cup of tea and his latest enthrallment, the first book in a new series of smut that piqued his interest. He leaned forward with an elbow propped up on the table, the scent of finely aged wood overpowering the still-lingering mist of rain that rose up from the ground, and he flipped a page. There was an empty plate next to his elbow, a remnant of a long-over meal that was eventually retrieved by the only waitress on staff, and he smiled at her with his visible eye.
She took one glance at his hitai-ate and spun sharply around to make a tactical retreat.
Rude, but Kakashi did not blame her. Being so far between towns, anyone travelling through from Wave, Rivers, Hidden Valleys or Hidden Leaf would have no choice but to stop at the tavern if they hadn’t properly prepared for their journey. They served food and drinks out in middle-of-nowhere Fire Country—good on them for being able to run a business in such a remote countryside—and naturally, a lot of their patrons had questionable histories.
That girl knew too well to keep her distance from missing-nin. She was seasoned at avoiding contact without coming across as impolite, even if Kakashi still found it rude , knowing the meaning hidden behind her tactical retreat, and she did smile at his short ‘thank you.’ At the very least, he could admire the ironclad will she needed to work at a place like that.
Kakashi scanned the bottom-most line of the page, the corner of the next between his fingertips. As he turned it, he felt the air beside him shift. He never looked up from his book. He didn’t need to. The body now sat beside him had such an in-your-face presence that it didn’t need to be seen, even if he could make out the telltale sharp imagery of orange, black and red in his periphery anyway.
The stalker was sitting on the bench with his back pressed flush against the table. An elbow was propped up on the wood, resting right next to Kakashi’s cooling cup of tea, and there seemed to be something held lazily in his hand, dangling there.
“Ah, look, I found you!” the man exclaimed, waving his wrist. Dango. He was holding dango. There was an awkward moment where he awaited a response. It stretched for a good few minutes and the longer it did, the worst the moment got. He flailed in desperate demand for attention and almost dropped his dango. Then came the panicked rush to save it. He managed to keep it from landing on the ground, but whatever tension he’d built up with his seamless entrance was now gone.
Kakashi was practiced at ignoring this. It only took two days of that man’s antics for the novelty to wear off.
Tobi—that was what the masked man introduced himself as two days prior—craned back to get a good look at Kakashi’s face. “How rude, Senpai! And after I came all this way to see you!”
Kakashi turned the page again, resting his chin in his palm as he rolled on through his novel at a lazy pace. The tension of the plot was rising, the characters were alone, and he was pretty sure that the good stuff was right around the corner. The thought of reading some action was a lot more of a draw than listening to the darkly robed, flailing nuisance that made up his recent stalker.
A hand shot forth and suddenly there was a dripping dango between his eye and the page. He shifted his book out of range and finally looked up, his eye boring dully into the darkened hole of the mask.
“Dango?” Tobi offered, waggling his fingers.
Kakashi’s sigh was long-suffering. The book snapped closed, his page saved by a bookmark, and he slouched a little less to give Tobi his attention. As much as he rather get into the steamy details of his latest read, this guy knew just what to do and say to demand his eyes and ears. Tobi was skillful at working a situation to his favour, at making those around him bend to his will, even if he was so completely inept at pretty much everything else.
“Maa, Tobi,” he chastised, sounding something of a scolding schoolteacher, “bothering me like this is rude, too.”
“You’re right. Sorry, sorry!” He sounded a little too cheerful to actually be sorry. “Hey, hey, have you considered?”
“Tobi,” he warned in much the same scolding tone, “I told you my answer before, didn’t I?”
Tobi stiffened. Then the flailing started up again and he held the dango as a peace offering. “Dango?”
Kakashi stared at it and sighed again. He never bothered to refuse the offer; he just didn’t take it. It was easier to just twist his body around and take a sip of tea than it was to fully acknowledge Tobi in any meaningful way. Tobi acted the fool, but there was something dangerous layered beneath the goofy mask and oversized robe, something unrecognizable hidden within the bumbling idiot persona. Kakashi was far too experienced in that field to be fooled. He weighed his options the night they met and decided that there was no need to confront Tobi or to say that Kakashi had any idea that he was anything more than what he said he was. It was best to play along and allow a practiced act of carefree indifference to sweep him through each interaction. No sense in poking the hornet’s nest.
Tobi whined dramatically before turning away. The mask went up and noises of joy and pleasure soon followed. Once it was back in place, the dango was gone and Tobi was looking quite pleased with himself. Face hidden by the mask, Tobi’s body language spoke in place of detailed expression. He considered Kakashi a moment longer before nodding. “You drive a hard bargain, Senpai. Fine. I’ll double my offer!”
“I don’t accept Leaf missions,” he said plainly as he, too, turned away, pulling down his mask and sipping from his tea. He mainly did it out of spite, but he tried to make it come across as an innocent gesture. Really, they were just two S-ranked criminals posturing. One of them would get bored eventually. Or someone would die. That was par for the course for a missing-nin.
“No, Tobi,” he warned. It was patronizing. Very much so. He hoped it came off as such. “If you have a mission involving one of the other hidden villages, I’ll take your offer. But no Konoha.”
“But Senpai ,” Tobi groaned like a berated child, the pout clear in the sound of his voice, “it’s only a teensy, tiny mission! Honest!”
Kakashi’s eye arched into a smile. “Oh, really?” he asked, encouraging. “Then you’ll have no problem finding someone else to take it.”
Kakashi made to rise from his seat when he was pulled still by a hand wrapped around his wrist. Tobi was there, trying not to flail too much.
“No no no! Leader says it has to be you!” Tobi sang the words with melodic ease. The panic was very obviously fake, but Kakashi was too agreeable not to humour him. Tobi was in a good mood, all things considered. “It involves super-secret infiltration!”
Kakashi considered the hand still tight around his wrist, contemplating whether to pry it off like a crowbar or break it in his fist. Both seemed impractical, as Kakashi’s last attempt at attack ended in Tobi phasing through his weapons like magic. That was a trick that Kakashi would have loved to learn; he couldn’t seem to copy it with his sharingan. His smile widened in some polite form of threat. “No. Konoha.”
He squeezed Tobi’s wrist until the hand came free, dug out enough ryō for his meal and set it down on the table before heading off into the trees.
“No one dies,” Tobi said and Kakashi stopped. His tone was lower then, calmer, as though there was something deeper being said. But just as quickly as it came, it left. “All we need is information, Senpai! You go in, get us what we need, get out and get paid! Doesn’t that sound like a good deal?”
“You need a plant,” Kakashi translated, tone flat.
“You got it!”
He looked back to glare narrowly at the masked man. Tobi was leaning forward now, elbows on the table and his chin in his hands, looking all sorts of smug where no face could be seen. Expecting acceptance, or at least interest.
Kakashi had been around the block a few times. He knew how grave this mission would be. Scouting and infiltration, while not the dirtiest of jobs, held within them a lot of implications. The information gathered by an unaffiliated plant was never throw-away; oftentimes, it played a crucial role in the downfall of nations. Village secrets. Identities of ANBU. Locations of important documents and items. Kakashi was not loyal, but he wasn’t so detached that he wanted to see mass harm come to the people of his former village. Just because he wasn’t breaking necks in the moment, it didn’t mean that their deaths wouldn’t hang over him another day.
Kakashi faced forward again and Tobi was there, without movement or sound, teleporting like a phantom. Tobi’s hands came together in a pleading gesture.
“Alright, Senpai, alright! No village secrets! Nothing of the sort, promise!” Tobi tilted his head. “Would that be enough?”
Kakashi shoved his hands into his pockets, a lazy slouch to his back as he considered his fellow missing-nin. “Maa, what sort of information are you after, then, Tobi? Senpai is growing very confused.”
“Right! Of course!” Kakashi blinked and suddenly Tobi was up in a tree, feet dangling from a branch. He was pretty sure that man was just showing off. The display of talents was also a warning, a threat—that if Kakashi didn’t comply, he’d be up against an ability like that. Well. Kakashi could handle himself well and good, and he was confident that he would figure out the trick to Tobi’s teleportation after a good, solid fight between them, so he wasn’t bothered. But he was curious. Just a bit. “We’d like the kyuubi, Senpai! We just want information on the jinchūriki and nothing else!”
His mind flashed to red hair and a sunshine-bright smile that reminded him too much of the calm blue skies above. Kushina was someone he hadn’t thought about in a long, long time. His memories were still clear as day in his mind, of harsh words and the submissive smile of the man who became the Fourth Hokage not long after Kakashi set out into the world. Kakashi liked to think that he severed all of his bonds the day that he walked across that bloodsoaked battlefield and into the nothingness of the forest, but at times like those, he was hard-pressed to believe it. Some ties were harder to break than others.
Kakashi considered the eerily cheerful man above whose legs were swinging back and forth with unwarranted cheer. He thought of accepting, of using it as an excuse to himself to make a trip back to his roots, to set foot in a village that he’d long since abandoned. Information on Kushina would not be all that hard to supply. He could have listed off facts on rotation right then and there.
He told himself that he hated excuses. He told himself that and yet there he was, brow arched and head cocked to the side.
“You’ve got me curious.”
Tobi made a loud, sharp exclamation, flailed, and promptly fell out of the tree. His body crashed into the brush below and Kakashi stared down at him, heaving a sigh.
He gave himself three hours before he started to regret this.
Kakashi crouched in the low branch of a tree as he observed the workings of Konoha’s front gate below. Familiar faces were stationed in the booth—Izumo and Kotetsu, all grown up and looking like fine shinobi. A part of him wanted to jump down, ruffle their hair and tease them about how much they’d grown. Of course, he was in no position to do so. Today was all about observation; entering the village itself could come either in the night or tomorrow, depending on what his time there found. So far, watching the workings of the gate guards was about as interesting as watching paint dry; the most eventful thing to happen all day was a merchant trying to set up shop inside the village without a permit. Watching Izumo go off on the poor fellow was amusing for all of ten minutes before Kakashi found himself sighing and resisting the urge to pull out his pocket novel.
Part of the reason he was taking his time, testing the waters, was to analyze Konoha’s detection. Were there a sensor type anywhere on guard, Kakashi wanted to be sure his chakra suppression was ironclad. Being detected snooping around the perimeter of the village walls was a lot easier to deal with than being detected in the heart of the village. Kakashi was confident, not stupid, and he didn’t need to risk his safety just for a meager paycheck.
Those days were over.
When, by sunset, no Leaf shinobi had so much as glanced his way, Kakashi affirmed that his cloak, while rusty, was just as solid as it had been in his jōnin days. The sky was darkening fast and he made a tactical retreat, dipping back into the forest, away from the wall, before dropping the cloak. He grabbed a sealing scroll out of his back pouch and laid it across the forest floor to get to work. The loose, casual robes he wore were exchanged for something a little more form-fitting, a little easier to maneuver in, should confrontation arise. Weapons that he usually didn’t resort to—kunai, shuriken, and even a tantō—were placed on his person as a precaution. After all, this was the strongest hidden village he was up against; it wouldn’t do well to underestimate them.
He felt the air shift and twist behind him and sighed.
“Maa, Tobi,” he chastised, “you’re being rude again, watching me like that.”
When he looked back, Tobi waved. “Howdy!” he greeted with his usual cheer, skipping up to Kakashi’s side, his mask facing the unpacked scroll. He bent forward, hands on his knees and noises of wonder escaping him as he took in all of Kakashi’s supplies. “Wow, Senpai! You sure do look prepared!”
Kakashi watched him dully, shaking his head. By that point, he’d resigned himself to the understanding that Tobi was watching him more or less wherever he went, whether from boredom or order from his leader. He conveniently popped up whenever Kakashi was alone between tasks, meaning that he was watching during the inbetweens, too. His presence remained undetected by Kakashi, though.
Really, what did they need him for? Tobi could have no doubt infiltrated the Leaf any time that he wanted.
Tobi dipped down and reached out, snatched one of the books off of the surface of the scroll and dusted it off. He hummed in the back of his throat, amused and curious as he turned the book over in his hands, eye lingering over the ‘explicit’ label on the back. “Wow, Senpai! How bold!”
“I’m well-read,” Kakashi supplied absently as he counted the remaining items once he was all suited up. He had sixteen spare shuriken, eight spare kunai, a fully-stocked med-kit, enough ration bars for eight days, and a standard sealing kit. And perhaps enough reading material to get him through at least two months of unrelenting boredom. Humming his approval, he sealed everything back up in his scroll. All that was left was the book in Tobi’s hands.
Kakashi rose from his crouch and glanced at the man from the corner of his eye. Tobi was distracted, somewhat more than usual, with his attention fixed to the back of the book. That made it easy to really look him over. He was cloaked in a long, black robe with crimson clouds patterning its surface—Akatsuki robes, Kakashi’s mind supplied. He’d heard whispers now and then of the organization but no one had a clear idea of what their goals were. The jinchūriki were involved, apparently.
Well, Kakashi didn’t particularly care. It wasn’t his business and he was getting paid.
The book in Tobi’s hands was Icha Icha , the very first entry in the series. Kakashi may have no longer been a Leaf shinobi, but that didn’t mean that he couldn’t appreciate the writings of one. Jiraiya’s book had been his first dip into the world of adult literature and he never went back.
“Keep it,” he said when Tobi’s quiet stretched a little too long, as though deeply considering something very profound, which was very much not a Tobi thing to do.
Tobi’s head snapped up. Then there was flailing. “Oh, no no no, Senpai! You don’t have to! Tobi was—”
“Keep it,” he repeated, rolling up his scroll and slipping it back into his pouch. He dropped the subject there, watching his well-worn book slip soundlessly into Tobi’s robes. Then his attention turned to Konoha’s walls, just barely poking out from above the treetops. Nostalgia pooled in his gut at the thought of slipping past to the other side but he forced it down, out of his eyes and heart as he turned a hard eye on Tobi. Acceptance of the mission came with the clause that Kakashi was doing things his way. His way saw the least collateral. His way kept everything contained.
Kakashi would keep himself hidden. Konoha would be completely unaware so long as he could help it. All he needed to do was get in, observe Kushina for a time, and leave. Present the written notes to Tobi, get paid, and get out. He was expecting a two week mission at most.
“Keep your distance,” Kakashi cautioned, thinly veiled threats in his eye. Then he was smiling, so utterly patronizing. He was surprised that Tobi let looks like those roll off him like water; at some point, it became Kakashi’s own personal mission to aggravate Tobi. So far, his efforts were fruitless. Nothing could crack that happy-go-lucky shell. “Senpai has work to do.”
“Roger!” Tobi saluted, then he was gone, his body phasing into nothing.
Kakashi was left standing in the clearing alone with one less book in his arsenal. He pulled on his gloves, let out a sigh, and vanished in a flourish of leaves and wind.
The Fourth Hokage was a man of courage and tact unrivalled in his time. He was a soft, gentle soul hardened by the atrocities of war, a man who rose to every occasion with the resolve to meet his goals no matter what obstacle stood in his path. He was kind, painfully kind, and something of a father to his students, all of which had no one left to fill that role. Minato Namikaze was everything a leader needed to be, both soft and strict, caring and calculating. A brilliant fighter, a brilliant tactician, a genius in his own right. The husband of Konoha’s jinchū riki, the hero of the third shinobi war, the Yellow Flash of the Hidden Leaf. To Kakashi, though, Minato was more than a role model. Minato was a teacher, a friend. Family. Minato was the last remaining shard of a shattered team that became the casualty of a forgotten era.
The Fourth Hokage lost his life after his first year in office. No information was leaked on how, so Kakashi was uncertain of the circumstances, but his instructor was long since dead. The lack of knowledge was knowledge in itself, though: it was post-war, so it wasn’t on a standard battlefield; there was no obvious backlash, so it was doubtful that the kill was claimed by shinobi from a rival village; and it was kept contained, meaning that it was a burden that Konoha bore alone, a failure that it didn’t want to share beyond its walls.
Just one more thing to be bitter about, Kakashi supposed.
Minato was dead. Kakashi understood that as he crouched on the roof of his leader’s old home, a relic of the past dark and abandoned in a village he thought that he would never see again. He closed his eye and focused on the space within the building, allowed a steady flow of chakra to seep through the roof and walls and envelope the whole thing in the sensitive buzz of his own energy. Kakashi was not a sensor type, but there were ways around that. Of course, Kushina was , but she wouldn’t notice him with how little chakra he was infusing—not unless she was looking for it, and there was no reason for her to be. He frowned as he scanned the house with practiced care. There was nothing inside. He wondered if she had moved or simply wasn’t home. Before the start of his mission, he needed to locate the jinchūriki. There would be no information gathering until he did. That was his justification when he unlocked one of the windows and slipped inside.
The wafting scent of rot hit him first and he covered his nose—rotting wood which, while unpleasant, was not the worst thing he could have scented. His fears were confirmed when he saw the thick layers of dust and cobwebs that decorated the abandoned furniture of his teacher’s old home. Nobody lived there. Kushina must have moved after losing her husband, or—
Kakashi did not finish that thought.
He lowered his hand and adjusted to the smell as he wandered from one room to the next. Everything was just as he remembered it, albeit aged by a decade. The pictures on the walls hadn’t changed, the bed was messy, sheets thrown haphazardly across a nest of pillows, and on the nightstand sat a lone picture frame. Kakashi took it carefully in his hand and held it up, brushing the fog off the glass. Four faces stared back at him, relics of better days.
He smiled and wondered if Minato would chastise him as he took off the back of the frame and slid the picture free. He justified the theft by remembering that this place was abandoned, that everything inside was forgotten.
Kushina would not have left so many pictures behind, widowed or not. Those images were pieces of time with her precious people.
Kakashi’s mind supplied him with answers that he did not like and he blocked out the world as he let himself mourn.
Kakashi stood, fully concealed, in Konoha Memorial. Lazy hands slipped into his pockets as he watched the tombstone with bittersweet fondness, lightly tracing out the engravings with his eye. He soaked up the names with heavy understanding and then his eye fell to the dates. The same year and, if his hunch was correct, the same day.
What happened, he wondered. What caused Konoha to lose its Hokage and jinchūriki all in the span of one moment? It was not the fault of an enemy village. No doubt war would have risen back up, especially when tensions ran high so soon after the third shinobi war came to a close. The fault was contained within Konoha. It was Konoha’s mistake.
Kakashi returned a missing-nin to gather intel on a long-dead jinchūriki. This was not his proudest moment.
“Maa, Sensei,” he breathed, shifting his weight uncomfortably before the stone, “I’ve disappointed you again.”
He tried not to dwell on the understanding that his mission—which he willfully accepted—was going to be a lot more troublesome than he initially thought. Having already received half payment, there was no calling it off. What he thought would be a breezy little observational mission, camped outside the jinchūriki’s home with a lot of indulging nostalgia to carry him through the next two weeks, was quickly turning into an actual investigation that would further cement him as an enemy to Konoha. There was a mix of resignation and reluctance swelling in his gut. Old loyalties were hard to break.
A warm breeze swept through the graveyard. It carried with it a foreign scent. Kakashi inclined his head to the side and stared curiously at the man that he found there. A chunin, by the look of it, clad in a flak vest, the familiar Uzushio swirl emblazoned across his shoulder and back. His presence was average, at best, and Kakashi didn’t recognize him. Well, he was likely too young to have been an acting shinobi by the time Kakashi abandoned the village, so that was expected.
The man placed flowers in the vase of a family tombstone, his smile soft and warm, and he inclined his head respectfully. There were other offerings already present, the calming scent of incense and a small, wrapped portion of food.
Cloak still in place, Kakashi wandered over at a lazy pace with soundless steps. His eye settled on the names on the tombstone, a husband and wife. This man's parents, likely. But something caused his practiced indifference to falter and his body to go rigid. Both mother and father died in the same year.
They shared their deaths with Kushina and Minato.
Something wasn't right. Kakashi leaned over to check the grave marker between this one and the Hokage's and frowned. Same year.
Kakashi pulled back and released a shuddering sigh, pleased with himself for thinking ahead and utilizing one of the noise cancelling seals from his kit. He rubbed the back of his neck, feeling out the exhaustion from a long night of insomnia, and settled his eye back on the chunin who—
The chunin was looking at him. Not through him, but at him. Their eyes never met, nor did they wander, but it was very obviously clear that the Leaf shinobi was aware that something was there, cloak be damned. His hand moved automatically to his kunai pouch and he waited for the first sign of hostility to act upon.
The man smiled. A long scar cut across the tanned skin of his nose and cheeks, his hair pulled up out of his face and tied back. “ANBU?” he asked, brow arched in amusement. His eyes searched the space that Kakashi occupied with interest, but he saw nothing. Heard nothing. “Sorry, I don’t mean to pry.”
ANBU, huh? The assumption made sense; average jōnin never hid themselves so thoroughly, and the technique Kakashi used was indeed something very similar to what the ANBU used. Kakashi released the kunai from his grip and shoved his hand back into his pocket, shifting his weight as he considered the man before him. Average chunin, and yet this was the only man in the village who showed any sign of being aware of Kakashi’s presence.
The man’s eyes cast to the grave next to Kakashi, Kushina and Minato’s. He twisted around, rummaged through his bag and retrieved more incense. He lit it, left it as an offering to the fallen Hokage’s family, and repeated the ritual he had at his parents’ marker. In that time, Kakashi made to switch spots, curious.
The man located him again with ease and a returning smile. “I understand that ANBU are meant to sever their ties for the sake of the village,” he stated matter-of-factly, “but it’s a bit unfair, don’t you think? To feel like you need to hide yourself even when mourning.”
Kakashi cocked his head to the side. “Maa, traditionally they don’t. A good assumption, though. Full points.” Not that the man could hear him.
“Not that I mean to criticize your organization,” he assured, rubbing the back of his neck. He worked his mouth, looking like he was going to backpedal further before stopping himself and dropping it all together. There was an embarrassed flush to his cheeks, barely there but still noticeable to a sharp eye. The man turned away then, back to Minato and Kushina’s tombstone. “My parents died in the kyuubi attack. It only feels right to pay respects to Lord Fourth when I visit them.”
Kakashi frowned. Kyuubi attack? That was the first he heard of it. Then again, something like that would be kept tightly under wraps. It was the equivalent of a village turning against itself, to have their tailed beast released on their own people.
Everything clicked into place—Kushina and Minato’s deaths, the reason why there were so many graves lined up in a row with the same date. How was the kyuubi released, though? Kushina was nothing if not in perfect control at all times. Her chains kept the kyuubi sealed with stronger force than even Mito before her. How could she have lost that control?
And Minato, where was he? He must have ended the attack; there was no one better suited to sealing left in the village at the time. Minato was a fuinjutsu master.
The question remained: who was the new jinchūriki?
The man gathered up his things and offered another smile. “I should be off. It was nice speaking with you.”
The man waved, and Kakashi waved awkwardly back. There was a flash in the stranger’s eyes, something brief an unrecognizable. Then the polite bow of a head, a last, lingering glance, and Kakashi was alone again.
Kakashi narrowed his eye on Minato’s name, dread curling in his gut. It was starting to look like he’d need to take a hands-on approach to this mission.
A swift blow to the back of the neck and the jōnin was laid out motionless at his feet. Kakashi released a long, tired breath and crouched down. He slipped two fingers beneath the cloth of the man’s hitai-ate and pulled it free, staring at the symbol of the Leaf etched across its metal plate, unmarred in a way that his was not. He hummed approvingly. “I’ll be taking this, if you don’t mind.”
The headband wasn’t what this was about, though, and Kakashi started digging through the man’s person, through his pouches and supplies, before finally feeling the thin pages of a small book. Kakashi pulled it free and stared hard at the blank cover.
Konoha’s bingo book.
He thumbed through the pages quickly, taking in the face of each entry with careful analysis. There was relief when he reached the very last page. Kakashi did not have an entry. Konoha never became aware of just what had happened to him. He could use that to his advantage.
Well, by the end of this, he would definitely earn a place there.
Kakashi slid the book back where he found it, rose to his feet, and considered the jōnin one more time before swinging around and wandering back through the trees, away from the village.
“Oh my, Senpai,” he heard and resisted the urge to sigh, “you’re leaving him be? He’ll report you! Oh dear.”
Kakashi could feel Tobi’s presence in one of the trees above, didn’t need to look to imagine the way his legs were swinging back and forth with carefree glee. He stopped, held himself there, and looked up at his stalker with a smile. “Maa, Tobi,” he greeted with false cheer, “nice to see you so soon.”
Tobi let out a gasp. “Is it really? I’m so touched, Senpai!”
The crocodile tears laid on thick, even for Tobi.
Kakashi decidedly ignored it. “It won’t matter. He didn’t see anything.”
Kakashi fell back into step and heard Tobi’s descent, the soft crunch of feet against grass. He wondered, briefly, if he would ever have a moment to himself again. At least Tobi steered clear of the village, if nothing else. The one solace he had was when he was beyond enemy borders.
He wondered how he always got himself into these messes.
“Oh,” Tobi noised. His pace quickened until he was at Kakashi’s side, staring down at the hitai-ate dangling from Kakashi’s hand. “Wow, you’ll go that far for a mission? That’s so moving, Senpai!”
Kakashi smiled again. “Maa, if it comes to it. I have a perfect success rate to maintain, Tobi. I need to do my best.” There was something in there that may have been a subtle jab at Tobi’s own incompetence, but if Tobi noticed then he didn’t say anything.
“Right, right. Of course. Such an honourable fellow, truly an inspiration!”
Oh. So Tobi was mocking back. Kakashi didn’t think he had it in him. He considered the masked Akatsuki a moment longer, very obviously sizing him up—to let Tobi know that he’d noticed—before leaping into the trees. He travelled faster that way, jumping from one branch to the next as he headed around to another side of the village wall. This side was easiest to slip through, less guarded than the others. It was the side where Hokage Rock sat.
Once a comfortable distance away, but close enough that his return to Konoha wouldn’t be much of a journey, Kakashi unsealed his scroll. He hummed as he looked through his things, trying to work out a suitable disguise. Before he’d risk giving out his own identity, he needed to at least try a false one. As much as an unestablished name wouldn’t get him much in the way of useful tips, it would at least help test the waters, help him formulate a starting point.
He was starting to think that this mission was going to last a tiny bit longer than two weeks.
Tobi followed, no surprise there. He was humming a tune as he looked over all of Kakashi’s things and watched Kakashi get suited up with unhidden interest.
“Oooh,” he cheered as Kakashi started with the makeup. It didn’t take much to hide himself—just a wig, a little makeup and a good cover for his scar. The fact that he usually wore a mask helped with the rest. “You sure know what you’re doing! What’s the plan? Can I help?”
Kakashi’s eye arched into a friendly, fake gesture of appreciation. He pulled his hitai-ate up, level on his forehead, revealing his sharingan eye. It was only exposed for a moment, though, quickly covered by his specialty contact lenses. He blinked several times as they settled into place, then looked up at the looming Akatsuki with consideration. “You’re not the most inconspicuous person, Tobi.”
“I can be inconspicuous, Senpai!” he assured, looking around rapidly. Then he was gone, running behind a tree, only part way hidden. “See, look, it’s like I’m nowhere at all!”
Sometimes it was very hard to be patient with him.
Kakashi turned back to his supplies and didn’t remark. There was a wig next. He brushed the strands straight and even to tame the unruly mess made of it within the scroll before slipping it into place, tucking his own hair beneath it.
Tobi popped out from behind the tree after the silence got to be too much for him, arms in the air. “I’m here, Senpai!” he announced hurriedly. “I was only hiding—”
Tobi looked at Kakashi and his words fell away. The flailing stopped, his arms went down, and he stared.
Kakashi arched a brow. “Ah?”
The Akatsuki was silent for a long time, uncharacteristically so. Then his head cocked to the side and he hummed in thought. “Oh my, Senpai, that disguise reminds me of a Leaf clan! Hmm, what was it again…” He tapped the base of his mask with a finger, crossing his arms and thinking. Loudly. “Nohare? Nohoro? Mmm, no, that’s not it… Nu, No…” He snapped his fingers. “Nohara!”
Kakashi’s eyes flickered up, meeting Tobi evenly, and he tilted his head innocently. “Ah, is that so? What a coincidence.”
There were pieces of his past that he hadn’t been able to part with. Sometimes the only way to move forward was to hold onto a piece of everything that was left behind. Rin Nohara was a mark forever carved into who he was. Maybe it was a coincidence. Maybe the disguise he took was an homage to her. Either way, he liked to think that she understood.
Surprising, though, that Tobi knew the name of such an obscure, extinct clan in Konoha.
Tobi considered him a while longer. Occasionally, he would shuffle a few steps to the side, consider Kakashi from a different angle, shake his head, and reposition himself again. This went on for several minutes as Kakashi sealed all of his belongings back up, defaced hitai-ate included, before Tobi sheepishly rubbed the back of his head. “Um, Senpai, it looks good and all, but…”
Kakashi hummed absent acknowledgement as he pulled on a long, concealing coat. It was annoying to move around in, but it was also the furthest thing from clothes that a shinobi would wear, so he’d draw less attention. That was the plan, at least, and it worked on several other occasions when he took this disguise.
“That is to say,” Tobi hedged, ducking his head, “your mask…”
Kakashi looked at him, face blank. He gave the material one swift tug and the mask came down, the material bunched around his neck, looking like an ordinary turtle-neck shirt.
Tobi froze. This time there was no flailing or absent words. It was amusing for all of three seconds before Kakashi got bored and ignored him in favour of slinging his bag—also retrieved from his scroll—over his shoulder. There were questions in the air and he felt a crack in Tobi’s act but didn’t draw attention to it. “I’m not as attached to my mask as you are,” he said simply. Smiled. It was patronizing, and this time he knew Tobi took it as such.
He left first. A swirl of leaves and wind and chakra, and Tobi was alone.