He had failed them.
Friend-killer Kakashi was what they whispered behind his back. It wasn’t even a week back from their Mission in Kiri and the rumors had already flown.
So what could Friend-Killer Kakashi do? Nothing. Placed on mandatory leave to recover physically and mentally, Minato-sensei had said. But how do you recover from losing two team mates in less than a month? Especially when it felt like your fault.
You don’t, Kakashi decides as he spends his days laying supine on his bedroom floor. He has already spent a week on mandatory leave. He hadn’t really left the confines of his apartment. He hadn’t really eaten in a week. Too tired to get up. Too tired to eat. Too tired to just…carry on.
But before his misery could swallow him whole, Kushina-sama barged her way in through the apartment and trampled on his self-pity party; she dragged him out by the scruff with her decidedly scary, maternal strength. When they reached Minato-sensei’s humble abode, the feisty red-head all but threw sole Hatake heir into a chair and threatened to force feed him if he refused to eat.
Later that night, when his sensei returned home, Kakashi was so overcome with a flurry of emotions of shame and guilt that he couldn’t possibly dare to look his teacher in his bright blue eyes. But he mustered up his courage and braced himself; as his eye rose to his teacher’s, he didn’t see pity nor disappointment nor contempt. Instead, he saw the warmth that he sometimes saw in his father’s eyes. A small smile played on his sensei’s face; it curled just so, that if it curled anymore, it could grow in that goofy grin he typically wore.
The next thing Kakashi felt was his sensei’s hand in his hair, all warmth and all ruffles.
“I am proud of you, Kakashi. I will always be proud of you, no matter what.” The young boy heard. And his shoulders began to tremble; he tried to quell the tears and tried to force down the pressure in his throat and chest. He had so much to say but the pressure felt like it was blocking his airway. He wanted to retort, asking how you could be proud of someone who kills their team mate? Who leaves their team mates behind? Who garnered the nickname friend-killer? But he couldn’t. Not when your throat was closing on itself as a last line of defense to choking back tears.
He couldn’t manage to spew emotional turmoil through his clenched throat, but he could manage bland business tones,
“When can I resume my duty?” Yes, that he could do. He could lose himself in missions. And perhaps not even come back, like the rest of his team. And he could see them a lot sooner and apologize profusely and beg for their forgiveness until the end of time. That…that he could do.
He heard Kushina-sama’s exasperated scoff and he may have or may not have heard her mutter something along the lines of ‘you should be resting and taking care of yourself first,’ but it mattered not in light of his sensei’s response.
“Well, Kakashi-kun, there are a couple positions you can take.” And the young boy perked up at this. “There is a position in ANBU you can apply for or you can enlist in one of the Brigades on the front lines—oof!” Kushina’s foot somehow kissed the soon-to-be Hokage’s shin in the least subtle manner.
As Husband and Wife delved into a side argument, Kakashi mulled over his options. ANBU was the elite of the elite, and he didn’t doubt he’d find his place there. But the 3rd Shinobi War was still raging. And Konoha was all but scraping by on sending out enough man power by the week. He’d remembered that some of his classmates had been pulled from the academy; he’d heard the rumors that they’d been sent out to the front lines. He hadn’t seen them since.
And then it dawned on the boy. An opportunity. To leave Konoha and never come back. At least not alive.
“I’d like to enlist.” He thought aloud, causing the argument on the other side of the table to pause.
“Come again?” Came the red head’s reply. Kakashi cleared his throat, and with a little more conviction,
“I would like to enlist.” He wasn’t prepared for the somber mood to take the room; both the blonde and redhead’s eyes lowered. They weren’t daft, Kakashi knew, and they certainly could read between the lines. Even though Minato-sensei looked ten times older than he did, he still smiled at Kakashi, and nodded; he respected the decision of the sole heir to the Hatake Clan.
He could see out of the corner of his eyes that Kushina quickly brushed at her eyes, her cheeks rosy, as they typically got when she was emotionally charged. Finally, his sensei spoke,
“I’ll send your profile to the Jonin Commander first thing tomorrow. You’ll be evaluated by a Yamanaka prior to shipping out—”
“But not before you get a good night’s rest and a belly full of food, you hear me, brat?”
“Yes, Kushina-sama.” He couldn’t help himself, his chuckles turned into a sort of somber laughter.
“You cheeky brat!” She grabbed him by the collar of his shirt and pressed him to her bosom; he felt her tears drop atop his crown of hair. “Just for that, you’ll be eating here until you get sent out, you hear me?”
“Yes, Kushina-sama.” And for the first time in what seemed like a long time, a smile tugged at the corner of his lips beneath his mask.
A week later, midway through June, Kakashi found himself in a caravan moving towards his future station on the home front. He was assigned to the 75th Battalion, about a day and half’s distance from the border of the Land of Fire. He was instructed he would be assigned a Company from there, and then assigned to a platoon that matched his skill set and experience. And then he would carry out orders until the end of the war. As he scanned the other members of his caravan, he noted it was comprised of a variety of shinobi. Some were clan members, some were civilian-born. He seemed to be the youngest member of this assembly. Some were jovial, some were somber. Some were returning after a brief R&R, some were here for the very first time. It seemed that no one recognized him, or at least, they kept their mouths shut about it. For that he was grateful as the voyage remained as peaceful as it could get.
When they arrived, he was scuttled into a giant tent. He was assigned to Alpha Company, 10th Platoon. A platoon comprised of ninjutsu specialists whose assignment encompassed support roles for those who go head first onto the front lines to maintain the borders. He would be on a weekly rotation with the other platoons.
After he received his designation and assignment, he was retrieved by his Squad Captain (Captain Akimichi to be exact), and he was escorted to his barracks. Oddly, amongst the chaotic vibes across this Battalion’s station, he felt at peace. He could hear the explosions far off in the distance, the scuttle of shinobi running to and fro, training sessions here and there, and the wails of the dead and dying that surrounded the camp. He would find his peace here, he thought to himself, and hopefully soon. He could die a nobody here. He would take the last of his dishonor of the Hatake name with him and cease continuing his bloody foot prints on this world. With time, he could only hope that his memory would wash away.
After a brief tour of the camp, his captain took him to the mess hall for dinner where he could meet the rest of his platoon. They were all pleasant and polite. They were also surprised that the last member of Minato’s team would be out on the front lines. They didn’t care much for his back ground story and he was thankful. He supposed it mattered not in the reality of war. He was just a kid to them anyways, a 12 year old snot nosed brat. Prodigy or not. But at least they treated him kindly.
As he and his team exited through the mess hall, Captain Akimichi halted his crew. Kakashi looked up questioningly to his leader.
“Pay up, Hyuuga!” His captain cackled. The Hyuuga on his team grumbled and shoved his hand in his pocket while mumbling obscenities unbecoming of a Noble clan member.
“What?” Kakashi looked toward his captain counting his Ryo. His captain stopped counting and pointed toward a group of Shinobi that were approaching.
“See, we have a bet on whether Squad 7 returns or not. It’s a terrible joke, but I suppose everyone’s humor turns dark when you’re fighting a war.” Captain Akimichi’s cheeks were colored a light pink, no doubt embarrassed.
“What do you mean returns or not?” He was definitely curious now. He felt his captain’s hand on his shoulder and the small squeeze he gave.
“Squad 7 is…a specialized squad, kid. They’re uh…” He stumbled on his words, scratching his swirly tattooed cheek. “For lack of a better term, they’re the black sheep around here.”
“Black sheep?” He turned his gaze to the group; there were seven of them all together including a gigantic black and grown Doberman. They wore the traditional ANBU uniform. They seemed to be walking towards the mess hall.
“Trust me, kid, you’re better off not knowing.” Captain said, shoving his Ryo in his pocket. The rest of the platoon had already begun to walk off towards the barracks, while he and the Captain stayed behind. As the group drew closer, he could make out distinguishing features of several Konoha Clans. He saw the Captain’s insignia on the leading male whose hair was strikingly similar to that of Nara Shikaku-sama. Along his right side, strode a long haired blonde male with pupil-less eyes, no doubt a Yamanaka.
The Captain of that squad stopped in front of Kakashi and Captain Akimichi.
“Welcome home, Captain Nara-chan! Yamanaka-kun!” His Captain chimed, broad grin stretching across his face.
“Akimichi-kun. It’s good to be back.” Captain Nara nodded and then his gaze turned to the silver-haired boy, prompting an arch of one fine, brunette eyebrow. His brown eyes turned back to Captain Akimichi, “He’s a little young for your squad, don’t you think?”
“Bahah! Speak for yourself, Nara-chan!” And a gruff, heavy hand came back between Kakashi’s shoulder blades. The silver haired boy looked between the two. “This here is Hatake Kakashi! Strong lad we got here.”
“Sakumo’s boy?” The Yamanaka sounded mildly surprised, but the young boy flinched at his father’s name before nodding. “He was a good man. Very good man.” The Hatake heir could only direct his gaze at the ground, not willing to deal with that particular topic. The adults could sense the change in the boy’s demeanor and swiftly changed course.
“Easy mission, I take it? You guys are back a day early.”
“Nothing too spectacular.” The Nara waved the question off, but Kakashi knew that was a lie. He smelled heavily of blood, and by no means was he sensor, but he could tell that Captain Akimichi’s chakra dwarfed the entirety of this group. “You guys just leaving the mess? Did you at least save some for us?” He gave a teasing smirk as he poked the other captain’s belly.
“Lucky for you, I’m feeling quite generous!”
“Good. The rest of you guys, go ahead. I’m gonna chat awhile.” Captain Nara said over his shoulder, which earned him a collective, ‘yes sir.’ Kakashi’s ever observant single grey eye surveyed the group as they passed through the entrance of the mess, led by the Yamanaka in a single file. He distinguished an Aburame, an Inuzuka who no doubt was the Doberman’s partner, a female shinobi whose hair looked like the exact shade of red as Kushina-sama’s hair except in high pigtails, a plain black-haired shinobi who had a frown to rival that of Fugaku-sama, and finally the last member of this team who paused in front of him. She looked to be the same age as he was, standing at the same height. And she had atrociously pink hair and bright green eyes. She offered him a smile before following the rest of her team into the mess hall.
“Kakashi-kun, why don’t you get settled in? We have a mission tomorrow morning at the border.”
“Yes, Captain Akimichi.” He spared one glance over his shoulder at the pink-haired girl before making his way to the barracks.
A week later, the Hatake found himself wandering to the mess hall by himself. He had just gotten back in last night from a six day rotation on the front lines. The rest of his platoon were still sleeping soundly at the wee hours in the morning. He helped himself to a small portion of breakfast before sitting down. Captain Akimichi said they’d have chore duties to perform around the camp; Kakashi was assigned to the mess hall to help with washing dishes in the morning. Afterward, they were free to do as they pleased. Platoon training would then commence before dinner hour at 19:00.
As he finished his last bite, he noticed several shinobi enter the mess hall; it was Squad 7. They were dressed in their immaculate uniforms and weapon pouches stocked. They looked like the definition of ANBU—they walked in a coordinated formation, shoulders back, and chins up. Even the Inuzuka’s ninken had its own little ANBU ensemble. The Nara and the Yamanaka brought up the rear. If there ever was a recruitment poster, this group would be it. They even sat down together in a uniform manner.
He watched them all eat their breakfast in silence. They left in the same fashion that they came in. There was a strong confidence among them and Kakashi could feel it. They were disciplined. They were mysterious. They were really the elite of the elite.
And he began to wonder what sort of missions they specialized in. What kind of team could come back smelling like blood as if it were a sort of normal day-to-day fragrance while joking around with other captains about the mundane? He felt drawn to that group. They were like a secret club and he wasn’t invited. How does one even get an invitation?
And he wondered about it until they came back.
Five nights and six days later, Kakashi would find his invitation presented to him in the form of a dead shinobi.
It happened on their last night in the camp before A Platoon would be sent out for their weekly rotation. He was coming back from training with his team when he saw them.
Squad 7 was back.
And they were carrying a team member on stretcher, sealed in white bandages from head to toe like a mummy. Three members on each side of the stretcher held on with one hand. And each member had blank expressions on their faces as they strode through the camp, even the ninken if that was possible.
They looked like hell. Despite the limp in their gait, the bleeding gashes, the exhaustion in their bones, they carried their teammate like they were the daimyo’s son—with precise steps, with respect, with care…with love.
And it looked as if they could part the seas with the way the shinobi in the camp split for them, clearing a path. Kakashi watched as they took the stretcher towards a wooden wagon by the supply tent. As they gently secured the body to the cart’s platform, Captain Nara spoke with the shinobi in charge of said cart before the nameless man nodded and disappeared around the stables.
As the last Hatake stood rooted in his place, he watched as Captain Akimichi approached Squad 7; he laid a hand on the other Captain’s shoulder before bowing his head, offering his own respects to their fallen member. He briefly recalled hearing someone from his own platoon telling him to eat dinner. He gave Squad 7 one last look before following into the mess hall.
He didn’t see Squad 7 until the following morning as he was preparing to leave from the camp. When he entered the hall, as usual, he was by himself, having risen before the rest of his platoon. As he sat, he noted the object of his obsession had wandered into the hall in the same calculated fashion he remembered from last week, although, a little more subdued and exhausted.
Kakashi waited until Captain Nara finished his breakfast before he approached them. He bowed low,
“Captain Nara-sama, I would like to be assigned to Squad 7.” He kept his head bowed low, waiting for a response. But none came. He slowly brought his head up only to find the rest of the Squad gone; only Captain Nara remained. He blinked a few times before the man gestured to sit across from him. Slowly, he did just that, never taking his eyes off Nara.
“You’ve got a lot of balls, kid.” The statement was a little bit of knife to the gut when it was coupled with the Nara’s harsh stare. It wasn’t menacing, but perhaps Kakashi should have at least waited until after his rotation before asking to replace their less than-24-hour-dead teammate. “Do you even know what Squad 7 specializes in?”
“No, sir.” The young boy only received a blank stare from the captain now.
“We belong to the Ranger’s Brigade. Do you know what a Ranger is?”
“Does Akimichi-kun know about this?”
“Tell me, Kakashi-kun. What makes you worthy of being a ranger?” Kakashi looked down at the table, feeling like a chastised child, a feeling he hadn’t had for a very long time. He felt like he had just got caught with his hand in the proverbial cookie jar. The young boy grew uncomfortable, not usually accustomed to these sorts of situations. He pushed his feelings aside and thought for a good long minute before he found his answer. He lifted up his hitae-ate and revealed his gifted Sharingan.
“I am disciplined. I am willing to learn. I will do whatever is required of me.” Captain Nara gave him a once over, not looking entirely too impressed with his verbal resume.
“Stealing doujutsu is unbecoming of a Konoha Shinobi.”
“It was a gift.” He glared.
“Are you afraid to die for your country?”
“No.” He said immediately before the word country fell from the captain’s lips. Maybe a little too quickly. Maybe a little too eagerly. Fuck.
“So that’s what this is about.” The Nara said cryptically before closing his eyes and Kakashi’s spine straightened faster than a bent feather in hot water. The Nara folded his arms over his chest before fixing the boy across from him with a stern scowl. “We may be the Suicide Squad, but I’m not interested in cannon fodder. Stick to playing tag on the front lines.”
And Kakashi’s chin sunk into his chest, but not as low as his hopes did. He felt like a baboon. Of course the Nara could see right through him; Nara’s weren’t stupid. Then he heard the older man disentangle himself from the plastic chair across from him.
“Besides, Friend-Killer Kakashi has no place among Rangers.”
And something inside the little Hatake snapped. Before it could register in his mind, Kakashi had punched his fist through the plastic table, faintly aware of the smell of burning, and crackles, and chirps of his signature jutsu in his left fist.
“I. Am. Not. A. Friend. Killer.” He bit out, through clenched teeth, spittle catching on the inside of face mask. The corner of eyes began to sting as the skin around the bridge of his nose wrinkled into a snarl. He could hear the bones in his jaw grinding and straining against itself. The hair on his forearm singeing.
The Nara gave him a once over before a dark leer crossed his features as his head inclined towards to the young boy.
“Like father, like son.” His voice was low and foreboding. There was a dangerous glint in his eye as his facial expression began to blossom into something more eerie than anything he had ever seen before. Before Kakashi could ask what the fuck that even meant, the Captain was already turning on his foot and heading out of the mess hall.
The rest of the week, Kakashi saw many shades of red. He threw himself passionately into his assignment at the border. He would show them. He would show them all who Friend-Killer-Fucking-Kakashi really was. And he did. He sacrificed self-preservation for his teammates. Sacrificed that extra little bit of sleep if that meant he could spare the more exhausted ones from night watch duty. Enthusiastically wasting his chakra if that meant it would provide an opening for his teammate’s to counter attack. And more importantly, he was learning to quickly disobey direct orders if it meant his teammate would live just one more day.
And by the time Platoon A was walking back into the Camp, he marched straight up to Captain Nara with what could possibly have been the craziest glint in his single grey eye before pulling out Minato-sensei’s bells from his back pouch, throwing them straight at the Captains’ feet before saying:
“I will never let a teammate die before me if I have anything to say about it.” He was huffing. He was exhausted—physically and emotionally, having spent the rest of his chakra on the run back to camp while figuring out how to shove his next words up the Captain’s ass. And goddamnit he was done with all of this. Whatever the fuck this was.
And then he heard the Nara cackle. Fucking cackling in his face. And before the little Hatake’s hairs rose on the back of his neck, a hand came down and ruffled his hair.
“Welcome to Squad 7, brat.”