If there is one thing Kakashi knows, it’s that the eye stays.
Kakashi remembers being fourteen and foolish, half-blind and hemorrhaging chakra, and just thinking of Obito’s eye as a punishment. One he deserved, but a punishment rather than a gift nonetheless. Being in and out of the hospital for months and the bone-deep constant chakra deprivation took a toll.
Kakashi remembers being sixteen and waking up in the middle of a mission, every bad memory in perfect recall bludgeoning through his mind and cursing Obito’s last gift.
Now he knows better.
If he were to lose the eye, one of the worst things he could lose is the perfect recall.
In a world where cameras are far and few in between, Kakashi has precious few images of his long lost comrades. Minato was the Hokage, so there were more than most of him, but images don’t capture the sun in his smile or his dismay at losing an argument about sealing. There’s nothing capturing the steel in his voice as he prepares to lay down his life for his village.
Except for in Kakashi’s mind.
The precious few relics of Uzushiogakure do nothing to remind him of Kushina’s boisterous laugh.
He remembers Minato’s small, sad smile, his “Kushina and I are worried about you, Kakashi,” in the ramen stand, and Kushina thwacking him in the back of the head a moment later, saying “Sage, let him enjoy his meal first before you interrogate him.”
He remembers the sight, the sound, the smell of Rin impaling herself on his hand, but he also remembers her delighted smile when she finally got the Water Dragon jutsu. He remembers her laugh. He remembers dinners with her at Minato and Kushina’s house.
One of the first things he learned from the few Uchiha willing to talk to him was to always outnumber the bad experiences with the good ones. Even small things, like watching Pakkun snore directly into an irritated Akino’s ear.
Over the years, Kakashi’s become an expert in activating the Sharingan for the smallest moment if he wants to take a picture. A few seconds for a video. Now that he’s getting closer to the end, he’s made sure to document all the little things. Chakra exhaustion is worth it for these precious memories. Besides, he’s in War Ops now, which means he should be fine.
And he is, until he isn’t.
Still, looking back on these memories is one of the few comforts he allows himself.
Even now, looking at his three cute students, he can compare their growth right before his eyes. The picture Shikako-chan (and she will always be his adorable, terrifying Shikako-chan) gifted them after the Wave mission is another memory he doesn’t want to lose.
Kakashi thinks he can remember his father’s voice, but can he really? After all these years, has he remembered the timbre and pitch of his father’s voice, or has he rewritten his father over and over in his head until he would be unrecognizable if the man stood in front of him?
Does he really remember the sound of his father’s voice?
Unless Itachi did a hell of a lot of Sharingan recording at eleven, no one alive today has witnessed exactly what Minato’s bright, abrupt laugh sounds like. The memory of it will die with him.
The thought of that happening to every person he’s lost in an instant breaks something in him that can’t be fixed.
He can see Sasuke’s soft smile, the broadening of his shoulders, the self-destructive rage quelling bit by bit in Team 7’s care.
The sheer appalled glare Shikako gives him as he swiped a permanent marker down her cheek.
Naruto jumping for joy and receiving his Chuunin vest.
Sasuke’s quiet pride in starting to master the Hatake Legacy.
Genma’s face when he managed to substitute the senbon between his teeth with a Pocky stick. Wordlessly. Without hand seals.
That one time he beat Gai at rock-paper-scissors because he wasn’t expecting Kakashi to use his broken fingers for scissors.
He can see the bloodthirsty joy in Shikako’s eyes as she hurls whatever new unholy explosive disaster she’s come up with directly at Sasuke’s face, and his equally savage grin as he slices through all of the seals before they can activate.
Well. Almost all of them. That particular spar ends in Shikako’s favor.
(And Sage, the look on her face when she’s sealing is exactly like Minato’s. They would have loved each other.)
So no, he won’t have the surgery. Kakashi has always been molded by the best of the people around him. To remove the eye and risk losing his memories, his must valuable asset, and his most precious gift is too high of a risk.
Not to mention the threat to Konoha if word got around that Sharingan Kakashi was now just Kakashi. If—when the news leaked, if it wasn’t already, all eyes would be on him the minute he was spotted in the field, and that pesky kill on sight order would kick in. On the other hand, death rumors are far more plentiful. The Kazekage dies five times a week. Jiraiya could rig something, which would give them longer to prepare. It would be better to have Sasuke henge as him and make a show of using the Sharingan for as long as they can.
He’s not worried about losing the jutsu. He’s already written some of them down for Sasuke and Shikako to decipher. That’s never been the point, other than to terrify the other villages into submission with the stack of paper currently in front of him.
To spit on Obito’s last gift to him, to forget the memories of the people who forged him, to give up the exact thing that makes him an asset to his village is unthinkable.
Kakashi’s always lived a lifestyle of one foot in the grave.
So no. The eye stays.
Tsunade plays dirty, after trying and failing to guilt Shikako-chan into guilting him. Instead, she just tells them outright. In front of him.
He sees the panic and despair flash through Sasuke’s eyes before his face reverts back to carefully neutral in a moment as he sits down. Sasuke’s always been good at remembering to pretend he has no emotions, but Kakashi can tell that Sasuke’s going to go rage-plan something with Shikako the minute they leave the room.
On the other hand, he can still see the panic and despair in Shikako-chan’s expression because she looks him in the eye with it. And it hurts.
(A part of him longs to be reunited with the people he loves, longs to be free of the drudgery that every day is, longs to be free of his slowly weakening body.
But the rest of him knows that it would be unthinkable to even consider wasting his comrades’ sacrifices for him. While they should have lived instead of him, they are unfortunately no longer present.
Kakashi also fiercely loves his three students. He didn’t think they would last, or that when they did he would love them like he does, but he is a fool for not knowing that. Kakashi’s always been willing to kill or die for any of his comrades, and would do unspeakable things for those three. He loves them more than he loves his village, and he’s actually done unspeakable things in the name of it.
Removing the eye is about the only thing he can’t do for them.
So yes, it hurts when Shikako looks at him, betrayal in her eyes.)
Everyone’s asked him if he’s going to have the surgery. The answer is always no. But there’s something about the way she asks.
Not in a “So you're going to have the surgery, right? I’ll visit you in the hospital” way, the way everyone asks him about the surgery.
“Are you going to have the surgery?” Shikako asks.
A genuine question.
The answer is no. He can’t. But Shikako and Sasuke.... they’re also his legacy. The legacy of the past versus the legacy of the present. He can already feel himself weakening as Sasuke radiates have the surgery in the corner, so he has to put a stop to this before it gets out of hand.
“No.” But that doesn’t seem like enough. He can already see the fight in their eyes as they respond to a challenge he didn’t mean to issue.
“No. Please don’t ask me to.”
He can pinpoint the moment when Shikako backs down.
Shikako-chan gets it. She understands the underneath the underneath, and the underneath underneath the underneath.
He shouldn’t be surprised. She understands why he’s late, the kind of gifts he likes, his training style. She allows him to have his quirks, and unconditionally accepts them without a thought. The fact that she gets this, or at least accepts it, should be no surprise. But it is. The last time someone “accepted” his decision, he got kicked out of ANBU three weeks later.
She closes her eyes and he prepares himself to know what it looks like when someone you care about is told that you will die. Not in the intangible way of “I will die eventually,” obviously, but the “I will die. Soon. The clock is ticking, you don’t have time.”
Granted, he had about two minutes to digest that he would never see Minato or Kushina again and about two tenths of a second with Rin, but the outcome is the same. He will be dead within a year.
Kakashi’s never actually been on the other side of this equation. He’s not sure he likes it.
Kakashi does not expect her next words to be “I’m going to need your medical records.”
What more could she possibly have? Is there even more that she’s hiding from that mission where she died? Kakashi’s content to let her keep her secrets, but everyone in the room knows that Tsunade is the best medic across the elemental nations. Shikako never takes on pointless endeavors.
Is this desperation? Or is this something more?
Now that’s egged Sasuke on.
Tsunade crosses her arms. “I’d be insulted if i even thought there was a possibility that it was something so simple. I’ve been over this. The whole hospital has been over this for years. This is the best, the only, possible treatment. All he has to do is agree.”
“You know he’s not going to, right?”
It’s uncomfortable that his student understands him this well. He doesn’t even understand himself half the time. But somehow, she is the only person to understand that the eye stays. Gai just hides his disapproval, though he has accepted it. Or accepted that he’ll manipulate Kakashi at a later date.
Shikako picks up again. “Maybe there’s nothing. Maybe we’re just wasting our time. But we’re going to try. You don’t lose anything by letting us try.”
The hope that courses through him as they rage-plan directly in front of him is almost as painful. He’s always known Obito’s eye to be a death sentence, a priceless gift, and a penance all in one since he was fourteen. It’s one of the few constants in his life. He is Sharingan Kakashi. It’s become part of his identity.
The thought of being able to keep the eye and live on sparks a traitorous part of him into hoping, no matter how much he tries to stamp it out. But he has to quell it, before it sparks into a flame that is most likely to die horribly within the next twenty-four hours. “You can try. But don’t.... if it’s doesn’t work.... you have to know....”
She has to know that it is not her fault. That she has to move forward with Naruto and Sasuke alone to face the war that is coming and to stick together.
And that it is not her fault.
“We can try,” she quietly corrects. “Don’t think you’re getting out of doing any work, sensei. I’m going to make you complicit in saving yourself.
Kakashi’s never been more hopeful.