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Forever towards dawn we run

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Naruto knows where he falls in his father’s estimation.

Namikaze Minato is the Yondaime Hokage, responsible for the safety and wellbeing of Konoha as a whole, and Naruto, while his son, is still only a single person. He cannot compete, cannot even claim to come close second. Konoha is always Minato's first thought, his most consuming preoccupation.

Once, maybe, it would have been different. Perhaps, had Naruto's mother—rarely spoken of, and never to Naruto, who only knows her face from the picture on the altar—survived the attack by Minato's former student, she would have been able to drag Minato out of his work and back to his family. But she died holding off the Kyuubi, and now Naruto's father can hardly bear to look at him. For all that they share the same coloring, Naruto is still very much Kushina’s son.

Naruto wonders, to himself, why this is such a bad thing. He’s in their house, far too big for two people, one of whom is never home, and sits curled in on himself before the table. Supper is laid out, because Minato promised to come home tonight, no matter what. Graduation is something special, after all, and Naruto managed to tie for top of his class with Uchiha Sasuke. Surely that’s something to be proud of.

But the door remains closed, the house silent. Naruto wraps his arms around his knees and lets his head rest on them, giving in to the ache that’s settled in his chest. There is no sound at all to break the hush, and Naruto almost feels that it is a weight, that quiet. He could, of course, get up and move, return to his room and the many scrolls there, the fuinjutsu and ninjutsu he’s been working on for as long as he can remember. He’s good at it—a prodigy, Kakashi tells him, when he manages to take a moment between missions and stop by—but it’s cold comfort tonight. Naruto is, at heart, a twelve-year-old boy who wants nothing more than for his father to smile at him and congratulate him.

Not that Minato never has—he does smile, even if less freely than people say he once did. But his eyes glance over Naruto as though he’s not there, as though it hurts to look into his face regardless of their similarities. And his smile, when it comes, is absent at best, halfhearted and distracted as he turns his attention elsewhere.

He never hears the whispers, either.

Kyuubi, the villagers call Naruto, though thankfully most of the shinobi know better. The demon boy.

Naruto could react to them. He could rail and rage and live up to his mother’s reputation as a prankster, proving them all right. And maybe in another world he would—anything to have his father’s attention on him. But here in this one, Naruto remembers the very first time he tried, the weary, aggrieved, unhappy look his father turned on him when Naruto was dragged before his desk. Being assigned community service for a month was nothing to the upset and disappointed expression Minato leveled him with, his tired mutter of, “Naruto, just…go, please,”and Naruto had emerged from his office feeling somewhere between dirt and filth and pond scum.

The next day he’d thrown himself into his studies, devoured every scroll and style that he came across. Anything to never earn that look again.

The house is still silent, still empty, and Naruto stands up with a sigh. His eyes are burning, but he can ignore it. He always does.

His hitai-ate is lying on the table in front of him, in between the congealing and untouched dishes. Naruto picks it up and clenches it in his fist, his free hand pressing over the seal on his stomach. It warms slightly at the touch, and unspoken acknowledgement from his tenant, and Naruto rubs at his eyes. It’s late—or early, he can't entirely tell—and he has team selections tomorrow. Generally, the rookie of the year and the top kunoichi end up with the class’s lowest-scoring student, but there are two top rookies this year, and Naruto wonders how that will effect things.

He wonders if his jounin sensei will be one of those who hate the Kyuubi too much to see its jailor.

In a perfect world, Naruto would be a hero for holding the bijuu inside of himself, for keeping it in control. But this is far from a perfect world, and while Naruto knows it could be much worse, he sometimes wonders.

Wonders how much lonelier he could possibly get, even if both of his parents had died that night.

Not all that much, certainly.

 

Kakashi hovers at the edge of the office, watching his sensei. He’s torn between the need to say something and his childhood worship of the man, because if Konoha has ever had a hero who is head and shoulders above the rest it is Minato.

But Minato also has a son, no matter how often he seems to forget, and Kakashi is fond of the boy. Naruto is a quiet child, more so now than when he was younger, but he always has smiles to spare for Kakashi and a question or two that Kakashi is always happy to answer. Naruto's very bright, and he always has been, quicker to grasp complicated concepts of chakra control and distribution than many chuunin, able at the age of twelve to channel wind chakra and well on the way to making his own jutsus.

Very quiet, though, Kakashi thinks again, watching Minato pour over a pile of reports despite the late hour. He wonders, if reluctantly, how much that has to do with Minato spending the vast majority of his time here. More than he would like, probably.

“Sensei,” he says at last.

Minato freezes, blinks, and then looks up, taking in Kakashi's lounging figure with a glance. He doesn’t even need to ask the reason for the interruption—it’s always the same, after all—as he glances over towards the clock and then winces.

“That time already?” he asks rhetorically, standing with a grimace for his stiff joints. There's a moment of hesitation as he glances down at his crowded desk, clearly debating.

“Sensei,” Kakashi says again, because he can certainly read this man after so long beside him. “I really think it would be best if you went home.”

Graduation was today, he wants to say. Don’t you remember? Don’t you know what that means?

But he doesn’t, because there's only so much he can do, and he’s learned by now that Minato either gets defensive or offended when it’s implied that he might be neglecting his son. It’s hard to even call it neglect, because Minato is certainly the busiest person in Konoha on any given day, and it’s expected of him. But Kakashi has seen Naruto wandering around that lonely house, waiting for his father to come home at last only to be disappointed, again and again, when he doesn’t.

Kakashi knows loneliness, unhappiness. Minato was the one to save him from it the first time. Now he wonders who will end up saving Naruto.

Minato looks at him, weary and worn, and rubs his hands over his face. “Right,” he says distractedly. “You're right, Kakashi. I need sleep. It’s…it’s been a long day.”

Earlier, he told Kakashi that he had put his name in the lottery for jounin instructor again, despite the number of teams Kakashi has already failed. Kakashi will have to meet the new Team 7 tomorrow, and while he normally hates the chore of it, this time he’s got a fairly good feeling about the choices. There's a handful of Uchiha and Hyuuga, the new round of clan heirs, some good picks from civilian families, and Minato's own son. Surely this time he’ll get a team that can see past the ends of their own noses, right?

“Tomorrow will be longer,” he says noncommittally, because he knows his old sensei, knows Minato will remember graduation when the list of passing teams comes over his desk in the morning, and will then agonize over his forgetfulness. He’ll be worried and apologetic and yet never to the one person who needs to hear it, and Kakashi will be the one stuck dealing with him, assuming his team yet again fails. It’s not something to look forward to.

“Yeah.” Minato sighs and looks out the window, to where the moon drifts full and shining over the sleeping village. “Yeah, it will.”

Usually, Kakashi stays to walk home with him—fangirls keep the oddest hours, after all—but tonight, just this once, he leaves his sensei to his own devices and leaps out the window into the cool night air.

Tomorrow will doubtless prove to be interesting.

If Kakashi remembers correctly, there's a curse that goes something like that.

 

The apartment is dark when he slips in through the balcony doors, silent except for the ticking clock in the kitchen. Kakashi sighs softly, toeing off his sandals and padding barefoot across the living room and down the hall. The bedroom door is ajar, and he pushes it the rest of the way open, leaning against the frame and just…looking.

Moonlight spills across the sheets like pale water, pooling in deep scars and sliding over pale skin, turning black hair to silver-sheened shadow. Obito lies on his side, half-curled in the middle of the large bed, with his cheek resting on one outstretched arm and the other arm draped over his stomach. He’s beautiful like this, even though Kakashi knows he’ll never see himself that way, knows Obito flinches away from mirrors and turns his face to the side when people look at him.

It’s…sad, just as sad as Naruto fading into quiet unhappiness as the years progress. Sad that Obito, who so easily sacrificed himself for a teammate, who tried so hard for so very long to someday become Hokage, is now a pariah of the village, just as much as the Kyuubi jinchuuriki. Both circumstances were beyond their control—Naruto certainly never asked to have the fox sealed into him, and Obito was half-mad with grief and the damned cured seal his ancestor had carved into his skin. But they’ve both been blamed regardless, shunned and avoided ever since.

For that, if nothing else, Kakashi thinks he could hate the people of Konoha sometimes.

He crosses the room with silent steps and settles on the edge of the bed, then reaches out to card his fingers through silky hair still slightly damp from Obito's nightly shower. A pause, a soft breath, and a dark eye flutters open, hazy with sleep but still warm when Obito rolls over and smiles up at his teammate.

“Hey, ‘Kashi,” he murmurs, husky and sweet, reaching up to tangle his fingers with Kakashi's. “You're back late.”

Kakashi frowns at him, reaching out with his free hand to touch the black patch covering Obito's missing eye. “You should take this off before you sleep,” he chides. “It’s not good to wear it all the time.”

“Forgot, sorry.” That slightly crooked smile says it’s a lie, another half-baked excuse, but Kakashi just sighs and unties the knot, pulling the patch away and laying it on the nightstand with his own hitai-ate. Obito doesn’t like to deal with his scars, or his missing eye—he’s told Kakashi more than once that he doesn’t regret the sacrifice, couldn’t when it had saved Kakashi's life, but…they're symbols of more than just that, these days.

Traitor, the people whisper, always just a little too loud for subtlety. Killed the Sandaime. Brought the Kyuubi down upon us. And Obito sees his scars as a mark of that, another thing to set him apart from the rest of Konoha.

It amazes Kakashi sometimes, that he stays, that he hasn’t abandoned this place of cruel whispers and harsh looks.

“Did Iruka-kun make you turn in your mission report right then and there?” Obito asks, propping himself up on an elbow and watching with a faint smile as Kakashi pulls away to start stripping off his uniform.

Kakashi hesitates, knowing that this is dangerous ground, but he’s so damned frustrated, so sick of it all, that the words come spilling out regardless. “I— When I got back, Minato-sensei was still in his office. He forgot about graduation.”

The slight smile vanishes, Obito's mouth compressing into a thin line as his gaze goes hard and dark. His relationship with Minato is…complicated. Kakashi knows that Minato is glad Obito is alive, that he survived, but like with his apologies, he’s never said it to the one person who needs to hear it. And Obito avoids him whenever possible, takes as many A- and S-rank missions outside the village as possible to get away from the guilt and grief he feels. After all, they both knew Kushina, both saw her as family, and it was Obito's actions—not of his own will, but still his—that were directly responsible for her death.

It doesn’t help that Obito can see quite clearly what Minato's inattention is doing to his son, and hates it. Obito grew up alone, without ever knowing his parents, and with the disapproval of his clan forever weighing on him. He knows how such a thing feels, and resents their former teacher for inflicting that sort of loneliness on his son.

“Don’t bother taking off your pants, Kakashi,” Obito says, throwing the covers back and sliding out of bed. Kakashi blinks at him, hands pausing on the button, but before he can ask why he’s slightly distracted by the wealth of pale, scarred skin and sleek muscle suddenly on display in the moonlight. Mouth going dry, he traces the lean lines of Obito's body with his gaze, right up until they're covered by a deep grey yukata.

“Obito?” he asks, confused, and only just manages to catch the shirt Obito tosses at his head. The one he just removed, actually, and usually Obito is a fan of him taking his clothes off, not putting them back on.

Obito raises a brow at him impatiently. “I take it you didn’t stay to walk the Hokage home?” When Kakashi shakes his head, Obito huffs out a sigh. “Then odds are good he’s just going to crash on that stupid cot in his office. So I'm going to go see if Naruto-kun is okay, and you're going to come so that nobody thinks I'm out to kill the Hokage's son.”

With a faint wince at that blunt summary of events—likely true, as little as he likes to admit it—and the way that, even now, Obito avoids so much as saying Minato's name, Kakashi hurries to pull his shirt back on, then grabs his hitai-ate and jogs after Obito, who’s already at the edge of the balcony. They jump together, touching down on the other side of the street and falling into an easy lope across the rooftops.

“Did I tell you?” he asks after a moment, hoping to at least offer a small bit of distraction. “I got picked as a jounin sensei again.”

Obito chuckles softly at that, slowing as they approach the Hokage's residence. “I don’t even know why they bother anymore,” he murmurs. “You know, if we used that bell test on all the graduating teams, the pass rate would be something like five percent. Or less.”

“Ah, but that five percent would be near-perfect shinobi,” Kakashi counters cheerfully, glad to see some of the lines easing from his partner’s face. He waves quickly to one of the ANBU guards hidden in the shadows, gets a nod in return, and heads for the front door. It’s unlocked, but there's light coming from the main room.

Without pause, Obito ducks past him and heads for the light, only to suddenly pull up short in the doorway. Kakashi peers over his shoulder and has to close his lips on the curse that wants to emerge.

Dinner is laid out, and Kakashi recognizes several dishes from Minato's favorite restaurant. A hitai-ate lies beside one plate, new and bright, and Naruto is seated next to the table with his arms wrapped around his drawn-up knees. He’s watching them, blue eyes—so very much like his father’s, though the same shape as his mother’s—wide with surprise.

“Kakashi-nii?” he asks, blinking as he straightens. “Obito-san? What are you doing here? Is Tou-san alright?”

“Hey, Naruto-kun!” It still amazes Kakashi that Obito is able to sound so cheerful regardless of his feelings about a situation, though granted he’s had quite a bit of practice. “Hokage-sama got a bit held up at work, but Kakashi and I were thinking of having a movie night to celebrate graduation and the new round of teams, since we’ve both got late mornings tomorrow. Want to join us?” He very carefully and deliberately steps on Kakashi's foot, though his bright smile never wavers.

Kakashi hides a wince, even as he summons up a smile of his own, getting the idea. “We’re going to stop and get ice cream, too,” he throws in to sweeten the deal.

Naruto studies them for a moment, then grins and pushes to his feet. Kakashi carefully pretends he doesn’t see the way the boy casts one last, pained glance at the food on the table before he turns to the two jounin. “Sure!” he says brightly. “Can we watch one of the Princess Gale movies?”

Obito reaches out and ruffles his hair with a fond smile, stepping back to let him pull his shoes on. “Sure,” he agrees. “I'm always up for that. And congratulations on graduating, Naruto-kun.”

That earns him a bright, happy smile and a flashed victory sign. “I tied with Uchiha Sasuke!” Naruto announces, and this time the expression makes it all the way to his eyes. “Rookie of the year, believe it!”

Kakashi chuckles, reaching down to snag Naruto under the arms and toss him up onto his back. “Good job, Naruto,” he says warmly. “I knew you’d do it.” He takes a chakra-assisted leap and lands in a crouch on the roof, Obito joining him a moment later. The Uchiha salutes the hidden ANBU, signing that nothing’s wrong, and gets a quick acknowledgement, then follows Kakashi back towards their apartment. Naruto chatters cheerfully about the test as they go, and in the wake of his unforced enthusiasm Kakashi feels the aggravated tension finally easing out of his shoulders.

It doesn’t matter, he decides stubbornly. It doesn’t make any sort of difference whether Minato takes time for his son, because Kakashi and Obito know the bite of loneliness all too well, and so they at least always will. And if he and Obito can become the boy’s second family, that’s enough.

That’s more than enough.

 

Naruto falls asleep halfway through the third movie, an empty container of ice cream dropping from lax fingers to hit the floor. Obito collects it with a faint smile, switching off the television, and a moment later Kakashi joins him in picking up the debris of their movie night.

“Should we bring him back?” Kakashi asks softly, gaze lingering on the small blond boy on the couch. There's a weight in his eyes that’s different than normal, steely determination rather than grim sadness, and it’s a bit of a startling change. Always, always, Kakashi has seen Namikaze Minato as someone irreproachable, irreprehensible. Even where Naruto is concerned, Kakashi tends to tiptoe around the subject, come at it sideways so that Minato never actually has to acknowledge it openly. It drives Obito mad, because this is a kid’s life the Hokage is ruining with his avoidance and grief and guilt, his kid’s life, and no one is saying anything.

There's not much he can do, by himself. Whenever he spends too long near Naruto—near any child or impressionable young adult, for that matter—he’ll be sent on a long-term and sometimes risky mission, and by the time he gets back whatever bonds he’d managed to form are pretty much gone.

Six times it’s happened so far, and Obito is never one to be overly suspicious of anyone, but in this at least he thinks he’s justified.

(Not that he can't understand why, but Minato used to be his rock, one of his few sources of comfort in the whole world. And now Minato won't trust him to so much as speak to children without someone like Kakashi there to keep an eye on him. That…hurts, regardless of how justified it might be.)

“No,” he answers at length, stacking dishes off to the side of the sink and then slipping back into the main room. He tugs a blanket out from under one of the cushions and spreads it over Naruto as gently as he can, smoothing it down carefully. “No, at least if he’s here, he can wake up to actual people in the house, rather than a—” Obito cuts himself off, biting back the word mausoleum because Kushina doesn’t deserve that. She used to laugh at Obito's antics, back when they were all as innocent as bloodstained killers could ever be, laughed and ruffled his hair and smiled at him, and he loved—loves—her for it.

Then he killed her, for the sake of a perfect world. Then he ruined everything.

And he still looks up at the moon sometimes, looks up and wonders what it would be like to live in that perfect world. Wonders if that would make the whispers stop, the stares go away. Wonders if this is the way things will be until he dies. If this is what he deserves, for what he did.

“Hey,” Kakashi murmurs, sliding a hand around the back of his neck and pulling him sideways a step, right into Kakashi's embrace. He doesn’t say stop thinking or it will get better or any other polite, pretty lies, because he knows. Knows that it will always be there, a weight, a regret, and nothing will ever be able to banish it completely. But Kakashi is warm and strong, the hard, lean lines of him, the strength of his calloused fingers against Obito's bare skin.

Instead of platitudes, Kakashi whispers, “Let’s go to bed,” and draws him away, back down the darkened hallway.

Obito casts one final look at the little blond boy sleeping on their couch, just as lonely and abandoned as Obito felt at that age, and then turns back to his partner and lets himself be pulled away. The main difference between himself back then and Naruto now is that Obito had had a team. Maybe not the best team, but a solid one. And tomorrow, Naruto will have that, too. It can only be good for him, no matter who he’s paired with.

Kakashi closes the bedroom door behind them and reaches for the obi of Obito’s yukata. He still doesn’t say let me take your mind off of it, or anything of the sort, but Obito's known him long enough to read it in the press of his lips as he takes Obito's mouth, hungry and careful, the curl of his arms as he guides Obito back to the bed and pushes him down. And that’s all right. Because Kakashi is here and the rest of the world is out there, shut away from this small moment of peace and near-reverent touches and love in the darkness.

It’s all right.

It’s all he needs, no matter what the world outside is like.

 

“Oh, Sasuke! How wonderful!” Mikoto cheers, kissing Sasuke on the forehead. “I knew you’d do well, sweetie.”

Sasuke smiles back, because it really is something to be proud of, being top of his class. “I tied with Namikaze,” is what he says, though, because Uchiha aren’t supposed to gloat.

Mikoto shakes her head. “He’s the Hokage's son, Sasuke. It’s to be expected. But you managed the same score as him, and your cousins placed highly as well. The Uchiha clan is making a fine showing this year!” Another smile, another quick hug, but Sasuke can't quite stop himself from glancing over at his father, who’s seated at the head of the breakfast table with his newspaper raised before him.

There's no praise forthcoming, not even a faint smile. He’d gotten a nod, a touch of a frown when he announced his ranking, and nothing else.

Sasuke knows why. Itachi was almost an ANBU captain by the age of twelve, already a jounin and well on his way to being one of the strongest, most influential shinobi in Konoha. Sasuke is only now becoming a genin, hasn’t even awoken his Sharingan yet for all that he’s mastered the Grand Fireball jutsu. He’s…not exactly a disappointment, but perhaps the next best thing to it.

Apparently oblivious to her husband’s grim silence and her son’s fading smile, Mikoto presses his bento into his hands, carefully smoothing down his spiky hair. “Team selections are today, then?” she asks brightly.

Sasuke drags his attention back to her and nods, trying not to grip the lunchbox too tightly. “Yes,” he answers. “They usually pair the top two students and the very last, but with two top rookies I'm not sure what will happen.”

“Well, best head to the Academy and find out!” Mikoto ushers him to the door, shooting a quick look back at Fugaku as she goes. He ignores her, and her lips tighten slightly before she turns her attention to her son. “Be safe, Sasuke,” she murmurs, running a fond hand through his hair. “And always do your best.”

“Yes, Kaa-san,” he says obediently, but the smile he gives her is warm and bright. With a quick wave, he’s out the door and running just a little too fast to be dignified, but she doesn’t call him out on it. He’s a child still, and as proud as she is of Itachi, she’s glad that at least one of her sons gets to enjoy his childhood.

Sasuke doesn’t look back, doesn’t have to in order to know that his mother is watching him. A quick check of the sun’s position brings a bit of relief, at least; he’s not late yet. He doesn’t think he’d ever live something like that down, being late to team selections, and he winces at the thought of what his father would doubtless say. Nothing, likely, but his disappointed stare would be a thousand times worse than any verbal dressing-down.

Ahead of him, at one of the cross-streets, is a familiar head of bright blond hair. Namikaze Naruto, the other rookie of the year, is standing with a pair of men, one in a jounin uniform and the other in a deep green yukata with a pattern of paler leaves picked out against the darker cloth. It’s clearly a send-off, as the dark-haired one lays a hand on Naruto’s shoulder and grins at him. Even from this distance, Sasuke can see the deep scars on his face, and marks him as a shinobi despite the lack of uniform, though it’s possible he’s already retired with wounds like those.

On a bit of a whim, Sasuke changes course and crosses the street, waving to Naruto even as the two shinobi depart. The blond catches sight of him and smiles back, pausing long enough for Sasuke to fall into step with him.

“Morning, Sasuke-kun,” he says cheerfully, tossing a quick, joking salute to the two men. It makes the brunet laugh and salute back, while the other, with silver hair, just gives a lazy wave. Then Naruto turns back to Sasuke. “Today’s going to be really cool, believe it! I'm excited for team assignments. Hope I get somebody cool for a sensei!”

“Me, too,” Sasuke agrees, smiling, because Naruto’s enthusiasm always seems to be infectious. They’ve been rivals all year, competing for the top spot, but now that that’s out of the way Sasuke hopes they can go back to the way they were before. Friends, maybe, or the first steps towards it.

Naruto looks at him and grins, blue eyes bright and all but glowing, and Sasuke feels something stutter in his chest.

“Come on,” he says, to hide any trace of it, and breaks into a run. “We’ll be late!”

Naruto laughs, surprised, but follows gamely, and a moment later they're racing each other down the street, leaving everything else behind.