When Naruto left, he had been 28, and young enough not to feel old. Things changed.
One morning Kakashi woke to the feel of a tendril of barely-concealed chakra sneaking its way loudly towards the eastern end of his apartment. He had his window open before the ANBU on the other side had quite finished reaching for the sill.
'Your lot isn’t really trying very hard this year, are you?' Kakashi asked, leaning casually against the window frame.
'Uh,' the ANBU said, looking as shifty as was possible for someone with a fully-masked face. 'We don’t want to die?' Kakashi didn’t recognise either the chakra signature or the voice, but his ANBU kouhai wouldn’t have been as suicidal as to have sent someone he knew. The ANBU reached awkwardly into his vest, broadcasting the motions with care, and removed a small message tube with a hideous ribbon securing it. It was thrust into Kakashi’s face.
'From the senpai,' the ANBU muttered, wanting obviously to be anywhere but hanging from the fourth floor ledge of a legendary jounin’s apartment.
Kakashi smiled, his eyebrow lifting. 'There was no need,' he said without reaching for the proffered gift. 'I don’t think that that was the present they wanted to give me.'
'Um,' the ANBU said.
'Bye-bye,' Kakashi beamed, and shut the window with a gentle push of chakra, activating a seal that sent the ANBU slipping, and yelling, off the walls. Kakashi didn’t bother listening for a landing; he was changed and out the door a brief minute later, headed for the mission room.
'— and good luck on your mission aaarrgh,' Iruka exclaimed when Kakashi climbed into the mission room through the window behind him. The genin team he had been speaking to scattered in instinctive fear as Iruka spun around, lecture at the ready. 'Kakashi-san, there exist doors for a reason!'
'Wouldn’t that leave windows in ninja villages ontologically deprived, though?' Kakashi smiled. Iruka suddenly noticed Kurenai, who was making big abort! abort! motions from across the room. He shot Kakashi another, reconsidering look. Here was the Copy-nin looking perky at 0907, seven minutes past the hour when the mission room officially opened. 'Can I help you with something?' Iruka ventured, feeling abruptly awkward. 'We have some easy B-rank missions on file?' He spied Kurenai frantically shaking her head. 'A-ranks, too?' Iruka quickly appended.
'Saa,' Kakashi said, looking up ponderously at the ceiling. 'I was thinking of something a little more challenging...'
'Kakashi!' Kurenai exclaimed, coming over to save Iruka from his own job. Iruka wondered if he was missing something, besides the fact that jounin were probably universally unbalanced. Hatake Kakashi' Kurenai sang, putting herself between him and the desk and smiling rather too broadly.
'Stalling won’t work this year,' Kakashi said to her sweetly.
'Who said I was stalling?' Kurenai replied, equally saccharine.
'Iruka-sensei,' Kakashi said, not looking away from Kurenai. 'Is that an unassigned S-rank file I see on the desk?'
'Yes?' confirmed Iruka. 'It’s to go up to Tsunade-sama later today for consideration.'
'No need to bother her, I’m sure that Godaime is very busy,' Kakashi said, sidestepping Kurenai and swiping up the scroll before Iruka could squawk in protest.
While Iruka was wondering how many of his bones Tsunade was going to break, Kurenai interjected with a declaration of, 'I hear there’s a D-rank mission re-shelving the local library’s erotica section,’ only to be summarily ignored. Kakashi was muttering, 'Wave Country, hm? That’s nice. Far away, too.'
'Does anyone care that there’s a procedure for S-ranks?' Iruka asked loudly, but Kakashi was already halfway out of the window and waving goodbye as he went, the scroll disappeared onto his person.
'You coward!' Kurenai yelled out after Kakashi’s swiftly receding form, 'This isn’t that big of a deal, you know!' and at that same moment Guy burst into the mission room (appropriately, through the door), clutching (inappropriately) bright green balloons in hand and yelling, 'AM I TOO LATE TO HELP? HAS MY ETERNAL RIVAL ESCAPED ONCE MORE?'
Wave Country was wet, and full of the usual suspects: Orochimaru’s serpentine influence visible there the same way it was present in every other country that had come to play into his arms race for power and insanity. Ever since Jiraiya had taken Naruto with him off on some adventure to improve the mind, body, and libido, Konoha had seemed almost quiet in comparison to the world around it — Tsunade too busy, as it were, dealing with the peace left behind in the shadow of Naruto’s negative space; the peace and the endless factory-line of A- and S-rank missions that she threw at Kakashi every time he came home to absent students and old memories.
The third or fourth time that Kakashi passed a night soaked through almost to the point of hypothermia, the only thing keeping him going the throb of Obito’s Sharingan in his left eye socket, he paused to wonder if he simply wasn’t insane enough if he could sit there thinking that war might be simpler and better than this game of preparation and endless accumulation of potential energies.
He picked up four more water-based jutsu anyway for his troubles fighting Orochimaru’s minions under circumstances less ideal than he had hoped but no worse than he had expected.
Kakashi returned to Konoha three weeks later, looking mostly the same as he ever did when he ended up in a hospital bed. He had a vague memory of reporting to Tsunade in the Hokage’s Tower, voice crisp and tone factual until the last detail was done, Tsunade not bothering to stop him until blackness and the satisfaction of another mission completed sent him down to his knees. Hatake Kakashi, legendary, perennially injured shinobi of Konoha.
When he awoke, Tsunade was already in his hospital room. Kakashi stretched without rising, and said, tilting his neck back, 'I offer you my head, Tsunade-sama. Have at me.'
'Are you having a mid-life crisis?' Tsunade asked without preamble, both snide and suspicious. She wasn’t shouting, which spoke volumes for her anger.
’60 is a little too long to live,’ Kakashi smiled in reply, ’so, no, Godaime, I’m not.’
Tsunade snorted. She came over to his bed, and helped him up when Kakashi’s body pushed itself out of force of habit into an obedient attentive sitting position. Kakashi looked at Tsunade, so very lucid with post-mission calm. 'Don’t steal any more S-level missions unless you stop coming home with broken bones,' she said to him quietly, brushing his hair out of his good eye.
'I could come home less dramatically,' Kakashi agreed. 'But it would take a lot longer than three weeks to get it done, and then who would you send off to almost get killed?'
’Are you whining about your mission load?’ Tsunade asked, eyebrows raised. 'Because when I was your age, brat, I’d done nearly twice the number of S-rank mission that you have.'
'But that’s ancient history,' Kakashi shot back, and before Tsunade could leave him with another injury, said, 'I’ve done twice as many S-ranks as Guy or Asuma. My record is nearly four times Kurenai’s. And I don’t have super-sanin powers, Tsunade-sama.' She paused long enough at that for him to add, 'Or boobs.'
Tsunade went for the door. 'You’re obviously recovered,' she tossed over her shoulder. With her hand on the door, she said, 'I should leave you to bleed out one day, just to teach you a lesson.'
'Maa,' Kakashi mused. 'But then I wouldn’t improve, and there are some pretty high standards you’ve set for me, Godaime.'
'Not just me,' Tsunade said, almost too quietly for him to hear.
'Well,' Kakashi said amiably, tugging at his eyepatch to make it sit more comfortably. 'Some people have legacies, but I mostly just have history to live up to.' As Tsunade cracked open the door, Kakashi asked, 'Aren’t you going to give me my present, Tsunade-sama?'
'You’ll be discharged in two days,' Tsunade told him, curt. 'There’s an A-rank information gathering mission. Jiraiya sent it along, so it’s his vacation for you, I suppose. Come for it any earlier and I’ll make sure Sakura is in charge of the ward the next time you’re admitted. Happy belated thirtieth, Hatake — not everyone good dies young, you know.'
The door clicked shut after her. Kakashi let himself smile under his mask, then slipped back into restorative sleep.
ANBU was better at pretending to be sneaky when given a handicap, anyway.