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Up on the Angel's Shoulders

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Hatake Kakashi was known and feared through the five great countries and a dozen little ones. Sharingan Kakashi. The Copy Nin. The man who copied a thousand jutsu.

What no one seemed to remember was that Kakashi had graduated as a genin at five. Had passed his chuunin exam at six. And he had been jounin at thirteen, before he ever received the Sharingan.

Of course, that forgetfulness was mostly his own doing. The Sharingan's greatest single use to him was not expanded perception, or the ability to copy others' techniques, or even intimidation value. It's greatest use was as camouflage. No one had to wonder why the man with a thousand jutsu kept winning; the answer was self evident.

It was also wrong.

Kakashi was not a collector of jutsu. He was a scholar of them. He rarely used what he had copied except as a psychological ploy. Instead he studied them, looking for patterns among them, looking for the deeper answers to why one technique succeeded and another failed, looking for the weaknesses one could point out in another. Looking for the reasons and roots of chakra itself.

Right now he was sitting on the edge of his apartment building's roof, staring into the wind and thinking about the Sharingan.

Common knowledge, if a clan secret could be called such, said the Sharingan activated under great stress or emotion. Kakashi thought he saw a much more specific pattern than that, though. Of the three activations he had seen himself, all of them had been in the field. None of them had been triggered by fear for the Uchiha's own life. No, all three had been triggered by need, an absolute, driving need to protect, not themselves, but their fellows. To protect an emotional bond of great importance.

Really, it was no wonder the First had offered the Uchiha guardianship of the village itself; it was a purpose wedded perfectly to the nature of their bloodline. It was almost the mandate of their clan--always provided the bonds of the village were ones the Uchiha cared for. Some generations that worked out better than others.

That was a conclusion Kakashi had come to years ago, though. It wasn't what brought him up to the roof today. No, what brought him up to the wind and height, seeking perspective, was something new.

Something Sasuke had brought to him earlier that day.

"Kakashi-sensei." Sasuke stood at the foot of Kakashi's tree, looking up and frowning. "You know a lot about seals, right?"

Kakashi raised a brow. Not the usual kind of question from Sasuke, who liked direct attacks and large explosions almost as much as Naruto did. He dropped lightly to the ground beside his student, head cocked. "Quite a bit, yes. Though I should warn you right now, I'm not going to help the three of you break into the library at the Hokage's Residence, or the Records room at the academy."

Sasuke gave him a faintly annoyed look, but didn't rise further to the bait. Kakashi guessed it must be serious, whatever it was. Sasuke held out a scroll. "Is there a seal on this?"

"Hm." Kakashi took the scroll and unwrapped it's tie delicately. It was an old one, the paper dry and crackling under his fingertips. "Where is this from?"

"The Naka Shrine," Sasuke said quietly, eyes fixed on the scroll, and Kakashi's hands stilled for a moment. He'd only been an affiliate of the Uchiha clan, not formally adopted; he'd never taken part in most clan rituals. But he'd at least heard of a few, and the Naka Shrine was where the deepest and oldest had been held. Records from the shrine could only be clan secrets.

The thing was, he'd never actually told Sasuke he was affiliated with Uchiha. As far as Sasuke knew, he was asking an outsider to unseal a clan record.

"Sasuke," he said softly, "what is this about?"

Sasuke shifted under his eyes, fidgeting. Kakashi waited him out. "There's... a record tablet there," his student finally muttered. "It talks about the Sharingan. Itachi told me to find it, when he... left." Sasuke swallowed hard, hands fisting for a moment. When he went on his voice was a little ragged. "It's mounted, and the mounting is a box. There were three scrolls inside. I took them out, then, but I... I never read them."

"Probably a good decision, considering everything on your hands at the time," Kakashi murmured, when it seemed like Sasuke had run aground in his explanation. "Did something change your mind?"

"Jiraiya-san," Sasuke said to his feet. "He said... I mean... He was always making me think about clan things. Really think." He half-laughed. "I hated it. But this last mission." Finally, he looked up, and his eyes were haunted. "I need to know everything. What if we did something like that man in Hidden Stone did? The Mangekyou Sharingan is bad enough! What if there's worse?!"

Kakashi rested a hand on Sasuke's shoulder. "Easy, now." He waited for his student to take a good breath and asked, "What is it about the Mangekyou Sharingan that's so bad?" The way Sasuke was talking, he didn't think it was just that Itachi used it.

Sasuke chewed on his lip for a few moments. "It's..." His eyes slid away again, but not before Kakashi caught a flash of shame in them. "It's wakened by killing your closest friend."

Kakashi sucked in a sharp breath. Now he understood why their last mission, and the absolute betrayal of Stone's shinobi by one of their own researchers, had brought this back to Sasuke's mind. He spared a moment to hope, very hard, that the fact he'd never heard of the Mangekyou before Itachi returned meant that it was an aberration, that only a very few of his second clan had ever been tempted into that kind of depravity. No wonder Sasuke was so tense. All he said, though, was, "All right, let's see what this scroll can tell us." He unrolled it carefully.

It wasn't all that long and he skimmed through it quickly. Warning followed dire warning about the method of waking the Mangekyou Sharingan that Sasuke had mentioned; a handful of names were listed, renegades who had taken this path and been executed for it. The death of both soul and chakra were cited as consequences of attaining the Mangekyou that way.

It was all curiously vague, though, and his fingers tingled faintly with each turn he unrolled.

"Hmm." Kakashi traced his fingers over the back of the scroll thoughtfully. "I think you may be right; there's probably more information hidden in here. Well, there's always the obvious thing." He nudged up his forehead protector and looked with his Sharingan.

"I tried that," Sasuke said quietly. "It didn't change anything, though."

"Mmm." Nothing was changing, no, but Kakashi's eye itched just a little, the back-of-the-eyeball itch that he'd felt sometimes trying to look through something that had a barrier seal on it.

Or something that had a very strong genjutsu shielding it.

"The curious thing about the Sharingan, you know," Kakashi said, peering closer, "is that it's an extremely localized technique. No chakra touches the object of your vision unless you deliberately turn it outward; rather, an alteration to your own chakra and eye structure changes the nature of your perception. Your own chakra control has a great deal of impact on how deeply you can perceive through the Sharingan." Sasuke was frowning at him in puzzlement and just a little annoyance at this recitation of the basics, and Kakashi's mouth quirked. "Remind me to teach you this."

He sent his hands flashing through the forty-three hand seals of the focusing technique Kazuo-san, his tutor among the Uchiha, had taught him long ago, focusing his chakra pin-point tight until his vision telescoped and the scroll's characters burned in his sight.

Burned and divided. Sentence lay over sentence, on the scroll, each one in the overlay continued by the one beneath it in the underlay.

"I learned that because my chakra isn't completely compatible with this eye," he said, jaw clenched against the disorientation of reading two layers at once. "It isn't usually taught to beginners. It burns chakra faster, but it deepens your perception." He broke the technique with a short gasp, squeezing both eyes shut for a moment to clear his head. "You should read that yourself," he said at last, "but in short it details all the consequences of awakening and using the Mangekyou Sharingan, none of which are pleasant."

Sasuke's shoulders relaxed all at once from their tight line. "Nothing else?" he asked, relieved.

Kakashi re-rolled the scroll carefully and handed it back. "Nothing else." At least, it recorded no more demons in the Uchiha past. Fortunate, that. The ones already mentioned were bad enough. Sasuke held the scroll in both hands, head bowed, and nodded.

After a moment, though, he took a deep breath and looked up, chin set and determined, shrugging out of his demons' hold. "That technique you used. Teach it to me."

Kakashi smiled, quiet and proud behind his mask. "Of course."

Kakashi drew up a foot against the edge of the roof and folded his hands around his knee. He'd told Sasuke the truth. The scroll spoke of nothing but the Mangekyou and its consequences: madness, blindness, corruption, death. But there were little turns of phrase in how those warnings were given that kept coming back to him.

The scroll spoke of those consequences following the forbidden awakening.

Was there, perhaps, another way?

Three times, he had seen the Sharingan awakened by the need to protect an emotional bond. Not always a completely friendly bond; indeed, in two out of three, the bond had been downright adversarial. But each had been powerful and deeply meaningful.

The best known way to awaken the Mangekyou Sharingan appeared to be taking just such a bond and breaking it.

Madness, yes. But that pattern suggested something more to Kakashi's scholar's eye: not only madness but conflict. The tension of opposites. In the beginning, the user killed to protect what he loved. In the end, he killed what he loved and had bloodied his hands to protect. Tension like that could tear a heart in two.

Tear it open.

That, he thought, might just be the key. Any path to the Mangekyou Sharingan must tear open the heart, right down to the core, far deeper than the first awakening. That wasn't the kind of pain any sane person would court. It was, however, a pain that came to shinobi sometimes, sought for or not. It was a pain Kakashi had known himself.

Could that knowing serve his village?

His lips quirked as he came face to face with what he was thinking. No wonder he'd sought the roof today, and not the Memorial. This wasn't a decision Obito could help him with. Obito would almost certainly have told him he was an idiot to even consider it and that he needed to spend more time healing his poor, battered heart instead of cutting it open all over again. Obito would have had a good point. But, for all his passionate attempts to keep Obito's spirit alive in his actions, Kakashi's life and heart had always been dedicated to Konoha's service. That was what had led him to war, to ANBU, to teaching, of all things, in the end.

"I've already paid this price," he murmured to the wind, to Obito's memory. "If handing over the measure I got for it will buy more strength, protection for my people... I'll do it."

Idiot, he could hear Obito chide, but the memory of his teammate smiled crookedly, the way he'd smiled at Kakashi that last day when they'd finally worked as one. Kakashi closed his eyes and smiled back, wry. The high wind over the village kicked up in a gust for a moment, ruffling his hair and curling down the back of his neck. Kakashi bent his head, reminded of another counter in his measure, one who would surely have had his own words to say about this plan. "Yes," he agreed softly. "Your student is still as reckless as always, Minato-sensei."

The wind sighed, but gently.

Kakashi sat in the middle of his apartment, table and cushions pushed back against the wall, paper spread over the floor mats to hold the rings and radials of the seal he'd drawn around himself. There was another on the door, a barrier. He didn't want to be disturbed, and he didn't want any neighbors to be injured if he lost control. He could have requested one of the sealed rooms under Intelligence, of course, but then he'd have had to say why. He wasn't at all sure he could explain, at least not in a way that wouldn't get him bundled off at once to whoever was doing operative evaluations this year to have his head examined.

"I never claimed to be sane to begin with," he muttered to Minato-sensei's memory, as he knelt in the middle of his seal rings. He could almost see his teacher's disapproving look as he set a cloth weapons roll in front of his knees and slowly unrolled it. This one didn't protect kunai. Instead, each section held a memento--the dark ones he hid away and never looked at.

Kakashi took a slow breath, closing both eyes for a moment. Today his forehead protector, with the muffling seals stitched and etched into the underside, lay beside him; he could already feel the hum of chakra through his Sharingan, released of all restraints. One by one, he released the restraints he normally kept on his heart as well--the light humor that hid his ferocity, the careful distance from his fellows that hid his passionate attachments, the pretty books that distracted him from the blood and shadows of his work, the cool calculation that kept at bay his wild need to act. He released them all until the core was bared, blazing free.

Love. Guard. Protect. Whatever it takes.

Slowly, flinching, he reached out to rest his fingers on the first memento, the knife his father had killed himself with. A faint sound forced itself out of his throat as he let himself feel the full weight of conflicting need and reality, of his hot need to protect and the cold memory of death and failure, of his father's body still and lifeless and a pool of blood soaking into the tatami. It hurt, like steel claws in his stomach.

He forced himself to touch the next one. A scrap of Obito's jacket, stained at the edge with blood. He'd cut the scrap away just before they left him behind, bones crushed to fragments, half his organs burst under the falling stone, eye socket empty. The empty body of the teammate who'd admired him, railed at him, challenged him, not with jutsu but with his heart--they'd left him behind, the one who'd made him understand Minato-sensei's words, the one he could have loved if he'd only known sooner! Love. Protect. They wrenched against Dead. Lost. Kakashi hunched in on himself, teeth clenched as water gathered in his wide, staring eyes.

One after another, he touched them and made himself remember. Rin's forehead protector, scratched and bent from the ambush that had killed her on a routine relief mission. A charred bit of wood from where Uchiha Hiashi, the only one he'd been willing to call his clan head, had been found, surrounded by dead Cloud-nin, both his eyes pierced by his own hand. The long lock of silky black hair that Haruko, ANBU's Swallow, had left him, her captain, along with her note of forgiveness the night she'd hunted down her own cousin unflinchingly and then walked out into the dawn and into the river to drown. An embroidered Uchiha insignia that he'd taken from the shoulder of Mai's uniform when he'd found his sometime lover dead in the streets with the rest of the clan, guts sliced open and sprayed up the wall beside her, laughing eyes empty and staring at the dark sky. With each memory, he fanned all the wild fire of his love and urge to protect as if there were still something he could do, even as he held the mementos tight and reminded himself of reality, the chill of death in their flesh when he'd found them.

Finally, the last memento was under his shaking fingers. One of the marker tags from Minato-sensei's final battle, edges torn and charred. Memory stabbed at him, of coming too late, far too late, of arriving only to see the Third straightening Minato-sensei's limbs and brushing blank, staring blue eyes closed. He'd been too late, followed too slowly when the Nine-tails turned away and he'd seen flickers of Minato-sensei's chakra in the distance. He'd failed. Failed to protect his teacher, his Hokage, the one he loved and had sworn in his heart to serve with his life. The one he'd needed, above all, to guard.

Memory piled on memory, of love on love and death on death, and he clung tight to his burning need to protect over against the stony chill of failure until they both screamed in his mind and heart, shrieked and howled with all the fire and grief that was in him and the fragment of mind left sensible wondered if this was madness. Red darkness clouded his vision.

And broke.

The very air stilled and brightened around him. He could see every current of it and every dust mote, every thread of wood grain and every fiber of straw. Drawn to the snapping point between the two poles of need and reality, his chakra shifted and his Sharingan answered. Here was strength to serve his need, to break reality if need be.

The world warped around him.

The next thing Kakashi was aware of was someone banging fast and hard on his door.

"Kakashi?! Kakashi! Open this fucking door and let me in or I'll blow it in, I swear I will! What the fuck is going on?! Kakashi?"

Anko. Of course. He tried to speak, to reassure her that everything was fine and there was no need for property damage, and only managed to cough in a very raw throat. He noticed he was flat on his back, too, looking up at his ceiling. Maybe he could get up and go to the door, where he wouldn't have to speak as loudly. Yes, that was a good idea. Only he didn't seem to be able to move much. Kakashi frowned to himself, considering this dilemma.

"Kakashi!" The door burst inward, barrier seal smoking and shredding under the force of Anko's kick. She stopped short just inside, eyes widening. "Sweet demons fucking, what did you do?!" She swooped down on him, heaving him efficiently upright, hands moving fast in an ungentle damage check. Kakashi's eyes widened as he saw the mess in the middle of his room. The paper of his containment seals was shredded and there was a hole or a crater in his floor, where he'd been sitting.

The mementos were gone.

"New technique," he managed to rasp, leaning on Anko's shoulder heavily. "Stronger than expected."

"I'll say it fucking was!" Anko glared at him. "Why the hell are you experimenting with new jutsu in our apartment building and not--" Abruptly she broke off, staring at him. No. At his eye. "Kakashi-san," she said, low and sharp, "what did you do?"

He grinned wryly behind his mask. "Clan secret."

She frowned, but didn't argue. Anko always had been serious in the field. "I'm getting you down to the medics. Hospital or Intelligence?"

"Neither." As her frown turned darker, he sighed. "Shizune first." He didn't want news of this going any further than was absolutely necessary. He saw comprehension in Anko's eyes, even though her mouth was still tight and disapproving.

"Fine." She propped him roughly against his table and hunted through the shredded paper until she came up with his forehead protector. Both of them eyed the end of the band that had been cut or torn away. "Other end doesn't seem to be here," Anko observed flatly.

Kakashi smiled. "Interesting."

Anko glowered at him and clapped it over his left eye. "Tie that. I'll be right back." In the doorway, she glanced back over her shoulder and added, quietly. "You'd better know what you're doing. I don't think we can afford to lose you right now."

Kakashi knotted the band clumsily as she propped his door shut behind her. His fingers were shaking. Chakra drain, he judged, feeling the chill of his extremities--not completely incapacitating, but he was undoubtedly in for a little bed rest. Well, maybe he wouldn't argue too hard. Once Shizune and Tsunade were both done yelling at him for taking stupid risks, he figured they could all keep busy talking over this destructive or warping ability he seemed to have gained.

Part of him hoped they'd take a while yelling, though, because his heart was shaking worse than his hands. He felt wrung out, scoured, but still vibrating with an edge like a combat high. Part of him felt stricken, bruised, that those mementos had probably been destroyed. Another part of him felt settled, contented that they had been lost in this way and for this cause, as though they were a suitable price. At the same time, he felt numbed, as if he'd burned the memories out by focusing on them so hard. He still remembered; there was still pain. It was just the bloodletting edge that felt a little dulled. He didn't know whether that was a relief or a betrayal.

"Was it the right thing to do, sensei?" he asked thin air, softly.

In answer, the door banged open again and Tsunade herself strode through it with Anko shadowing her. "What the hell did you do to yourself this time, brat?" she demanded, hands on her hips.

The breeze from the swinging door ruffled through his hair like light fingers, and Kakashi bent his head into it for one moment, yearning with all his torn heart for the lost touch of his teacher's guidance and forgiveness. And then he looked up at his current Hokage with the most insouciant expression he could manage.

"Well, there was this scroll..."

Kakashi drifted up out of sleep to the feeling of fingers carding through his hair.

"That was an extremely foolish thing you just did," Minato-sensei said quietly.

"Mm. Had to," Kakashi murmured, sleepy but stubborn. Minato-sensei's sigh was familiar.

"You did not have to, but I don't expect you to admit that." He could nearly hear the quirk of his teacher's mouth. "Not out loud, at any rate."

Kakashi turned on his side and curled up against Minato-sensei's knee, the same way he'd hidden from and silently apologized for reprimands so long ago. So many years since he'd done it last, since he'd heard Minato-sensei's soft huff of amusement or felt gentle fingers tugging on his hair in answer. So long.


Kakashi slowly opened his eyes and stared up at the man sitting beside him on his hospital bed. It really was Minato-sensei, long pale coat folded and crushed under his thigh, smiling a little at his shock as Kakashi leaned up on one elbow. "What..." he managed, raspy and harsh.

Familiar blue eyes were sober. "You tore your chakra, Kakashi-kun, right down to the root. The damage is echoing in both your body and spirit. Tsunade-san is wise to keep you under observation, here." A small smile, quiet but bright as anyone else's laugh. "But it does mean you'll be far more sensitive to the presence of spirits for a time, so I took the opportunity to scold you in person."

"You're... really here?" Kakashi whispered, shaky. "I'm not... I mean..." Of course, years in the field reminded him, if this was a dream or hallucination, it was perfectly capable of telling him it wasn't, so nothing was proved. In fact, he told himself sternly, bracing for the inevitable disappointment, any claim of being real should probably be taken as evidence that this was a figment of his own pain and imagination.

Minato-sensei leaned back against the wall beside Kakashi's flat hospital pillow, crossing his arms. "Define 'really'." Kakashi choked on a disbelieving laugh at that, and his teacher smiled, eyes glinting like he knew exactly what Kakashi had been thinking. "I'm as here as I've always been. And you are... not exactly dreaming."

That was not the answer he'd expect from a dream, no. It was definitely a Minato-sensei original. But then... "Why have you stayed?" Kakashi demanded. "How have you stayed?" None of the Hokage were in-shrined; the First had forbidden it, saying that no one who dirtied his hands and conscience with the things a good village leader had to do should ever be venerated.

"The Hokage Monument makes a very good shintai, actually," Minato-sensei observed lightly. "There are even offerings left there, sometimes, by those who feel too soiled to stand on purified ground in the shrines. As for why..." He looked down at Kakashi, eyes level. "Do you really have to ask that?"

Kakashi's eyes fell. "I suppose not," he said softly. The Monument. Which meant that Naruto had been clambering all over his father's actual face and painting it new and interesting colors; Kakashi wasn't sure whether that was unbearably sad or incredibly funny.

Wait. Naruto. He looked up again sharply. "Minato-sensei, if you're still here why haven't you spoken to Naruto?" Surely the village's host was spirit-touched enough to hear.

Minato-sensei slumped a little against the wall, sighing. "I wish I could. But the Nine-tails holds more than a bit of a grudge and drowns me out whenever I come too near." Sadly, he added, "I can't even really blame him."

As badly as his own heart ached tonight, Kakashi couldn't bring himself to press further against the darkness in his teacher's eyes. "I'm sorry."

Minato-sensei gave him that small, true smile again, and warmth curled through Kakashi. He'd cherished that look for as long as he'd known Minato-sensei, very nearly living from smile to smile and hoarding the reassurance and approval in them.

And then he'd lost them.

Abruptly his eyes were wet and he hastily flopped down again, turning his head a little into the pillow to blot them.

"Kakashi." Minato-sensei's fingers brushed his hair again, stroking through it gently. "I haven't left you. No matter how my most bullheaded student has infuriated or terrified me over the years, I haven't left you."

"I couldn't... I wasn't in time..." Kakashi started into his pillow, thick and choked, and his teacher's hand closed on his nape and gave him a light shake.

"Enough of that," Minato-sensei told him firmly. "It wasn't your job to save me. You didn't fail."

"But," Kakashi started, stubbornness waking again. He'd been a jounin already, surely it had been his job to support his Hokage! And then he gasped softly as Minato-sensei's hand tightened a little, strong and warm on the back of his neck.

"You did not fail." That was his Hokage's voice as well as his teacher's, and Kakashi subsided, just a little daunted, as always, by Minato-sensei's rare sternness.

"Yes, Minato-sensei," he murmured, lying quiet as that insistent absolution settled into his heart.

"Better." His teacher's hand was gentle again, stroking his hair. "Sleep now, Kakashi. Rest. Heal up from doing such a damn foolish thing."

Kakashi's cheeks were just a little hot. "Yes, Minato-sensei." He curled back up against his teacher's knee, and heard Minato-sensei's soft chuckle. Slowly his eyes did slide closed under the steady stroke of Minato-sensei's fingers through his hair.

"Remember," Minato-sensei's voice said quietly as he drifted back down. "It wasn't your fault or failure. None of it was."

When Kakashi opened his eyes again it was daylight, and there was no one sitting beside him. No sign anyone ever had been.

But his heart didn't hurt as much.