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A Lot Like Never

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 "Twenty years. A lot like yesterday, a lot like never."

Tim O'Brien, The Things They Carried




Boulders are falling—roaring more like a blazing inferno than once-solid earth—but there's no screams or shouts or voices. He can feel the blood dripping from his once-an-eye and there's Rin, but where is Obito?

Kakashi tries to fight down the wide-eyed panic and vaguely realizing that he's failing miserably. But that's all a distant second as he tries to focus his eyes—no, eye, he only has one now—on his surroundings. It darts frantically through the raised dust, searching…

…and settles on the downed figure embraced by his own blood, nearly smashed to paste by the boulders pinning him down. Kakashi hears the rocks groan as their weight shifts, and a strained whimper as they press down into soft flesh. The thought of "how is he still alive?"  drifts through his mind, but he quickly shoves it aside and scrambles over, tries to raise a boulder that he knows he will never be able to move.

Obito won't have much time left.



He wakes up in the middle of the first night, because his left eye feels wrong and it's burning and oh God, it's not his eye, it's Obito's, get it out get it out getitout—

He's still clawing at his face when the wave of horror finally rushes away, nails scratching dripping, bloody furrows into his brow. He gasps for breath in the chill dirt. The darkness is stifling.

He wonders if this is how Obito felt.



It doesn't feel real until they reach Konoha, with its deadly silent streets and hollow-eyed citizens and military police scouring every corner. His new eye immediately draws attention. It begins as incredulity and quickly escalates to outrage and murderous glares. Kakashi is no stranger to being ostracized by his village, but knowing that Obito isn't here to with a screech and a challenge to distract him—and it's his fault, damnit—makes it hit so much harder.

The complaint is brought up before the Hokage and the Council within the week. Kakashi only escapes the enraged Uchihas' retribution when a fearsomely angry Hokage both dismisses the Council and threatens the Clan's head. From across the muttering crowd, Uchiha Fugaku turns his stare on Kakashi, expression frozen. Kakashi meets the gaze with narrowed eyes, and the man's own eyes flare red for a moment before he glances away, dismissing the teen.

Kakashi's fists clench so tightly, the knuckles pop.

And if his new eye is just a little damp, his tilted headband soaks it up instantly.



Their first battle back on the front, Kakashi nearly joins Obito. He throws himself through the line and into the enemy's ranks, disregarding all danger, decimating ninja after ninja. More than once, he darts in between a comrade and an incoming attack, and the already-bloody ground grows darker. When Kakashi treks back to his teammates after the fighting lulls to a close, his clothing is filthy, bloody and torn from the gashes decorating every part of his body. Rin gives him a tearful, slightly hysterical scolding, and he earns measuring look from his sensei. When the second battle goes much the same, Minato pulls him aside.

Instead of the expected lecture, Minato just scrutinizes him with his sharp, steel-blue eyes, the stare of a veteran commander. But after a long moment, the ice in the blond's eyes melts to oceans, and Minato reaches into his kunai holster. He turns his laden palm to Kakashi, and Kakashi instantly recognizes one of the Yellow Flash's tri-pronged kunai. It is slipped into Kakashi's hand with a murmur of, "Just in case. I'll always be there."

Don't throw your life away. There are still people who love you.

Kakashi tightens his trembling grip as Minato ruffles his hair with a sad smile.



Another battle, and a jagged knife nearly licks his scarred cheek before he manages to dodge. A few minutes and a kunai through the throat end his attacker, but once Kakashi reaches the safety of base camp, he drops to his knees. He knows it's not real—it was weeks ago, why does it still hurt?—but he still gags at the ghostly, white-hot pain of a knife slashing up his face, at the alien feeling of Rin's fingers around his dead eye, pulling and prodding and squeezing until it bursts from its gory socket with a sick sucking sound.

He retches again.



All eyes stare as a boy barely old enough to be called a teenager tears across the storm-dark battlefield, screaming blue electricity engulfing his right hand and trailing a whip of eye-searing light in his wake. He has lost his identifying headband, but his silver hair glows a beacon-like white in the stark light.

A stout Iwa kunoichi snaps from her stupor and jabs at the boy with her javelin, but he dodges before it even comes close. His left eye, a bloody red, wheels in time with his racing footsteps.

The white-haired child skids around a boulder, then slams his shrieking palm into the Stone commander's chest. The lightning bites through muscle and tissue and brittle, brittle bone until his clawed hand emerges through the other side, still covered in chirping electricity.



Obito's blood-red eye swirls faster, and Kakashi finds himself mimicking his opponent's hand seals, almost before the woman herself makes them. When a twenty-foot earthen lion roars next to him at the same time one explodes from the ground behind her, he finds battles pausing around him.

Victory in this fight brings the first of the tales: tales of a child, a non-Uchiha, yet one gifted with their Sharingan and a better master of their bloodline than many of their own.

Kakashi doesn't care beyond the fact that the Uchiha in camp now glare with fresh loathing.



The war waxes and wanes, and with each new battle, stories race like wind-fed wildfires through the enemy camps. Hushed whispers speak of Konoha's Yellow Flash, of a single man blowing through whole regiments, unstoppable as any force of nature. Of the hundreds of shinobi slain before even realizing they were struck, brought down in that blaze of unearthly golden light.

He is already legendary.

Others, though, tell of a boy with stark white hair and a demonic red eye, flying across battlefields with lightning dancing in the palms of his hands, leaving a sea of blood in his wake. The White Fang reincarnated, they call him. The White Demon, the White Lightning, the Copy Ninja.

Kakashi of the Sharingan.

(He, too, is becoming a legend.)



Another month passes, and then the war lumbers to an uninspired end. Kakashi wanders aimlessly after a messenger hawk brings the news first of a cease fire, then a peace treaty to their base camp in Kusa. He dodges tents and shinobi without conscious thought, and the part of his brain that is constantly analyzing notes that he's in a mild-to-moderate state of shock. Or possibly sleepwalking. This all feels like a dream, anyway.

He should be happy. Celebrating, like the rest of the Leaf ninja. But it just can't be that easy. Take out a bridge. Force the enemy back. End the war.

Four months. Four months more, in a war he's been fighting his whole life, and Obito would still be alive. Just a few months sooner, and he'd have never lost his friend.

(A few seconds faster, and he could have dodged the stone in his blind spot. Just one decision made earlier, and they'd never have been in that position in the first place.)

His fist finds a tree trunk.

God damn it all.



The memorial stone sits cold and lonely in the out-of-the way third training ground. Its black obsidian absorbs what scarce moonlight flickers through the clouds, darkening the clearing even more, and leaves rustle dryly in the ever-present wind. A figure shifts at the noise, but its gaze never lifts from a name carved in the stone.

—a pair of contemptuous black eyes stare at him, and his ears ring with the chorus of, "Worse than trash, worse than trash,"—

—fingers in his eye, boulders crushing his chest, blood in his throat—can't breathe, can't breathe, it hurts so bad—God, make it stop—

The figure does not move for the rest of the night.

("I'm sorry" will never be enough.)



After all this time, it smells the same. The first things Kakashi notices are the lingering scents: the clean sweetness of straw and the fresh tang of steel, the earthiness of the fields and the boldness of ink, and the warm musk of canines underlying it all. Each aroma evokes own memories, snatches of time when everything in his life was in its place.

Now he creeps through the darkness in the Hatake Clan's own compound, trying to block those times from his mind. He's here to face one ghost, but there are many more he doesn't want to raise from their sleep. The teen steps silently past the entrance to the dojo—don't look at it, don't think about it, just walk—and holds his breath until the door to his father's study slides shut behind him. He exhales heavily, and a long moment passes before his heavy heart will allow him to move.

When it does, the young jounin steps up to a specific panel in the wall and presses his ungloved hand to it, listening to the soft crackle of the disengaging chakra seal and the even softer click-click-click of steel tumblers dropping.A whole section of wall slides back and reveals two pristine scrolls, the size of a small child each. Kakashi's hand drifts over the scroll on the right, but it falters and clenches into a tight fist. He instead gently removes the scroll on the left—a contract for dog summons, since he can't bring himself to touch that of Sakumo's wolves.

"I believe that the White Fang is a true hero!"

He can do this. He can.

Kakashi rolls the scroll open and bites into the pad of one trembling thumb until he draws blood, then carefully signs his name to the paper. It soaks in and dries in an instant, then flares a vibrant white as his name—and his blood—is accepted.

The newest dog-summoner re-rolls the scroll and places it on its stand and, with one last glance, seals both contracts behind the strongest lightning wards known to the Hatake Clan.



The polished black surface shines in its field of swaying grass. Wildflowers dot its base, blue heads bobbing in the wind.

"I'm trying."

The forget-me-nots nod in response.

"Minato-sensei, Kushina, Rin—they're all still here."

The grass shivers wildly.

"…I miss you."

The memorial stone stands, silent.



His first summoning results in a tiny pug popping into existence atop the scroll, growling for all its worth. Kakashi just stares at it. The puppy breaks off its high-pitched snarls and plops onto its rear with a yawn. Kakashi stares some more. He's pretty sure his eye twitches.

It's tiny.

Eventually, via yips, growls, and one memorable bite, they establish that the pug's name is Pakkun, and that he is, in fact, a boy. When the newly-identified Pakkun goes on to sneeze in his face and then wet on his leg, Kakashi is certain of two things. One: he despises the Mutt. Two: he will never in his life even dream of using it as his summon.

Of course, this would work much better if he could figure out how to summon someone else.

Two weeks after that first meeting (and two weeks of the Mutt appearing every time he tries to summon), he finally gives in and begins training the runt in basic tracking. A week after that, he all but smacks himself in the face when the stubborn pup sits on his feet, looks up at him, and declares with a smug smirk, "Kakashi."

At this point, the fact that Pakkun is learning to talk can only improve their relationship.

(He hopes.)



A few seconds after arriving at his favorite training ground, he realizes he is not alone. A green-clad stranger flashes him a disturbingly cheerful, upside-down smile while hanging from a branch, and Kakashi has to fight the abrupt, instinctive need to back away slowly. Unfortunately, after the kid introduces himself, complete with flamboyant pose, the newly-christened Gai just can't seem to take no for an answer. Over the course of the afternoon, this somehow leads to Kakashi and Gai being declared Eternal Rivals.

This is the last straw. Kakashi flashes in for a jab to the solar plexus, and is moderately surprised to find himself blocked. Gai smiles blindingly, and everything disintegrates rather quickly after that. There's a punch and a kick and an elbow to the nose somewhere in there, and everything dissolves into a brawl more akin to a fight between academy students than the battle of two trained ninja. Then one of them slips on a poorly placed rock, and the whole mess rolls downhill. Kakashi comes out on top (barely), which only leads to the other boy howling for a rematch.

Minato and Rin can't stop laughing after they pry the story out of him.

Gai is stupid and goofy and oddly (agonizingly, distressingly) dressed, but there is some sort of spark to this kid, some drive that says he will go far. And the other teen is growing on him, craziness and all.

Really, he's not quite a friend, but then Kakashi's never been good with friends. And so for now, not-quite-a-friend is as close as Kakashi will let him to get.

(That's what Obito began as, too.)



—His hands clench tightly on the bathroom sink, and he stares at his reflection in the mirror. A condemning red eye stares back.—

"You'll just kill him, too, you know."



Minato-sensei is gibbering like an idiot. Still.

"—Kushina just told me today, and I don't know what I'm doing. What if something goes wrong? We've never done anything like this before, but I'm—oh gods, I'm so excited! Can you believe it? We'll have to clean out a room, or maybe move into a house. I've got so much energy right now! Kushina says I should run around the village, so I came out here to tell people, and I have to find Rin, too, but can you believe it? And what if I mess up—did I mention I don't know what I'm doing? Can you believe it? And now Kushina—"

Kakashi massages the bridge of his nose and reruns the last ten minutes of nonsense that has spewed from Sensei's mouth, trying to find a common theme. Maybe if he's patient, the blond will wear himself out, or stop or explain or something.

But that would do nothing for his headache.

"Sensei," he huffs bemusedly, cutting through the dazed-looking man's rant. "What are you talking about?"

Their eyes connect for a moment of mutual blankness before Minato collapses into slightly hysterical, full-bellied laughter. And now Kakashi's just plain staring. He discreetly looks his sensei over for head wounds.

It takes Minato a long minute to calm himself down, but then his face breaks into a smile so wide, his eyes squeeze shut and the air fills with his joy. "Kakashi, Kushina's pregnant. She's pregnant! Can you believe it? I'm going to be a father. A father…" he trails of dazedly, and if possible, his grin grows even wider, channeling all the warmth of the sun. "And you'll be like his big brother, eh, Kakashi-nii?"

Kakashi blinks.

Kushina is pregnant.

He blinks again.

A brother.

A smile slowly creeps onto his masked face, and something inside him blooms warm at the thought.



It's a Tuesday after a spectacularly average B-Rank and the world finds them at Ichiraku, Sensei gulping down ramen like a man possessed, Rin giggling at the feat and Kakashi wondering where it is, exactly, he puts it all (he's on his fifth bowl already). Though to be fair, Kushina-san can knock back twice as many in half the time, even if it's really not good for one's health to comment on it—she's got mean left hook and no qualms against using it. Minato-sensei downs the rest of the broth, finally letting out a sigh that's more of a gasp as he leans back, groaning.

"That last bowl might have been a bit much."

Rin's giggles morph into full-fledged laughter and Kakashi's lips curl in an involuntary smirk as Sensei bemoans the fate of his stomach in an overly-dramatic fashion.

It's almost enough to fill the silence emanating from the empty fourth stool.



It's not until after Rin dies that Kakashi first thinks about joining ANBU.

Obito's death doesn't push him that far, because Obito is laughter and taunting and jealousy and stupid excuses and loving every minute of it, the very opposite of the chill, faceless ANBU. The very thought feels sacrilegious. He has people counting on him, Sensei and Kushina and Rin. He had promised to protect Rin.

But now Rin's gone, too—

(dying dying dying, her blood slick on his hand, his arm buried up to the elbow in her chest, deathdyingdead)

—and suddenly he can't stand the thought that he failed in the one thing that really mattered.



It is soaking wet the day of her funeral, and the rain tastes of shattered dreams.



Kushina's names for him range anywhere from "Kakashi-kun" to "Kakashi" to "brat" depending on the day. When she comes upon him before even the pre-dawn gray has lit the sky, kneeling in front of the memorial stone, feeling cold on the inside—another one gone—he only snaps out of it when he hears her unusually subdued voice call him "Kashi-kun."

Kakashi glances up at her with half-lidded, dead eyes. Kushina's long red hair swishes around her as she settles down beside him. She's silent except for her soft breathing, close enough to touch. The grass beneath him dances in the wind, and the stars begin to vanish from the lightening sky.

The sun is still struggling to break over the horizon when Kushina pulls him gently against her side. She runs a hand through his hair in a way that brings back hazy half-memories of a time when he was too small to walk. Obito's eye has long since flooded and spilled over, but his own is a dull, emotionless gray. He feels painfully frozen inside. But Kushina's petting is soothing, and it manages to dull the cold ache in his chest.

Sometime in those dusky pre-dawn hours, he drifts off to sleep in her arms, the lilting notes of a lullaby playing softly in his ears.



The day after her funeral, Minato-sensei tracks him down. If anyone claims he was avoiding his sensei, Kakashi can't deny it.

He is not at the memorial stone, but at the top of the Hokage Monument, slumped on the Second's head and overlooking the village. Kakashi doesn't look up to acknowledge the arrival, instead focusing on something not visible in the distance. They sit there and watch the sun set fiery orange over the buildings and jovial villagers bustling below, oblivious to the eyes tracking them.

Finally, Kakashi voices a question, "Is it worth it, Sensei?"

He's not quite sure which question he's asking, but he wonders if he sounds half as tired as he feels right now.

Minato looks pensive, his eyes dark and his mouth a grim line as he gazes down at the village. Minutes pass, but then a soft, sad smile tugs at his lips and he directs Kakashi's gaze downward, toward a group of children screeching happily and dashing through the streets, avoiding their caretakers, innocent in a way Kakashi himself has never been.

"Rin fought and died as a kunoichi of Konohagakure, to protect us and to give them a future." A broken chuckle. Minato glances down, meeting Kakashi's uncovered eyes. "She protected what was precious to her. That's something that no one would regret."

The wind picks up and tugs gently at Kakashi's mess of hair. He glances over as the dying sun glints off his sensei's bright mane, and watches as Minato's coat billows out behind him like a pair of fiery wings, as if he were a fearsome, loving god guarding the village below.

Kakashi breathes in the fresh scent of the wind and thinks that this is the reason his sensei will be Hokage.



He wakes suddenly, soundlessly, all senses snapping hyper-sensitive in a millisecond. He is frozen in place in his bed, though, unable to move and fighting back the next scream trying to tear free. His throat aches with rawness.

Minutes pass with excruciating slowness, and eventually he raises a trembling hand to his unmasked face. A warm wetness traces its way down both cheeks.

—Obito crushed beneath a dirty boulder—the creak of bones screeches harshly on his ears, the sight of the exposed, bloody optical nerve nearly makes him retch as the eye pops out with a watery squelch—

—a near soundless cry, choked and disbelieving, from his own throat, "Daddy?"—

—blood flaking off his fingers, the smell lightning-burn flesh in his nose, his hand catching on the shattered remains of her ribs—

—another set of graves under the name Namikaze—rain nearly drowns the earth, and mismatched eyes drift to a third, child-sized stone—

—all gone in the end, and it's all your fault—




September fifteenth, and Kakashi's fourteenth birthday.

The first of the presents he unwraps is a small blue box, which opens to spill a chain necklace into his lap. It shines a bright silver in the lamplight, and is just barely thick enough to not be considered feminine. He sends Sensei a flat stare, but Minato only smirks. Only he would buy Kakashi something so girly.

Of course, this just guarantees a certain couple a gift of very girly clothing at their baby shower.

Kushina's gift, by contrast, is a vibrant red scarf, a few shades brighter than her own hair and impractically long. He briefly considers mentioning that the bright red will only make him a target in a real fight, but he quashes the urge after seeing her beaming smile. And really, he is rather flattered.

(Jiraiya's gift is a subscription to an adult magazine, but it doesn't bear mentioning after Kushina burns the paper to a crisp with a well-aimed fireball, crossing her arms over her swollen stomach and muttering vile implications under her breath.)

Three and a half weeks later, it is October tenth, and the world is thrown into hell.



Kakashi races through the crumbling remains of buildings and scorched, upturned trees to his sensei's side (—his second father's side, don't lie—), praying to anyone out there that this time, he'll be fast enough to save someone precious to him. His desperately focused mind snaps to an even higher level of alertness when the Kyuubi's reduced chakra vanishes completely. Momentary relief washes over him before he snaps it back behind iron shields, because he still doesn't know.

As if in answer to the unasked question, in the far distance he sees the Sandaime exit a craggy rock cave, carrying a prone form: white-and-red coated body topped by vibrant yellow hair.


The fiery tails of the Hokage's coat flap about him in the dying wind like a pair of broken wings. Kakashi tries to ignore the blatant symbolism as he sprints forward again, using his chakra—what little he has left; he'd ignored orders to remain behind, and staying ahead of the Fox had taken nearly everything he had—to speed his steps even more. When he reaches them, he braces himself behind a shinobi's emotionless mask and turns his heavy gaze downward.

When he finally comprehends what his eyes are telling him, he blanches ghostly-white and his knees threaten to give out. His brilliant mind slams to a halt and his whole focus narrows to one word: no, no, no no no nonononono—

Minato died with a half-smile on his lips, a mocking parody of the sunshine in his eye-crinkling grin. He's saved his village—his precious people, no regrets—but he's left so much behind, too.

Kakashi all but feels something break inside of him. He feels the tears fall (Shinobi Rule number twenty-five: show no emotion) but the stabbing hopelessness overwhelms any notion of caring. Tears don't matter anymore.

Everyone is gone.

(—all your fault—)



That first night he passes out, exhausted, in front of the memorial stone and simply tries to not drown in the memories.

He is alone. Utterly, terribly alone.


He leans back against the cool stone and cries.



Kakashi officially learns the name of Sensei's son over a day later, once the village struggles back to its feet. It doesn't come as much surprise to the heartbroken jounin, nor does the naming of Jiraiya as little Naruto's godfather. The news he really wants to hear, though, is of how Minato and Kushina died (he thinks of Kushina as a cross between an older sister and what he thinks a mother might be like).

The Third is all but run off his feet trying to hold everyone together and keep news from spreading to enemies, and Kakashi can't go searching for answers himself; the whole village is on unofficial high alert, an undercurrent of tension running through every citizen there, civilian and ninja alike. Ever since the Hokage's announcement, and his proclamation.

The Fox had been sealed inside the child.

Minato was a genius with seals, beyond the level of a master, and Kakashi knows Sensei would never take chances with his son's life. It issafe. But Kakashi still can't go near the boy; he refuses to see the bright, beautiful infant Sarutobi tells him looks just like Sensei. The very thought of doing sends an ice cold knife to stabbing through Kakashi's chest somewhere in the vicinity of his heart, and suddenly he's face down on the floor of his apartment, gasping raggedly and clutching at both his neck and chest, because his throat is paralyzed and he can't breathe.

He's cracking (cracked), and he's afraid he will shatter completely.

(And Kakashi can't help but feel that if he sees the boy, then little Naruto will die, too. Everyone he loves always dies.)



The memorial stone is still an icy, cold black, and the scores of newly-carved names flash in the moonlight before being swallowed by shadows. The tree leaves lie motionless in the wind-dead night.

He knows neither of them would blame him (—lies, lies, lies—), that Sensei at least wouldn't want him to drown in guilt (—your fault—). But in the end, he can't fight the nightmares that lurk behind his eyes.

(This marks the second time he's lost a father.)



He glares at his reflection in his mirror, at the face so like the White Fang's, marred only by a scar and the brilliant red eye of his best friend. His muscles tense.

The face splits in two with a sharp crack! and the tinkle of falling glass. Ignoring the wave pain from his bloodied fist, he slumps to his knees in the shards.

(It's not them he hates.)

He always fails at the things that matter most. All of his precious people are dead.

(And all he has are regrets.)

(It's himself.)



Some nights, it feels like his heart is drowning in acid. Others, it's so cold he's not even sure it's still beating. It's easiest when his chest just goes numb and he can't feel anything at all.



They all died, one by one by one.

Except for Kushina and Minato. They died together. So he guesses it's one by one by one by two.

Some small part of him giggles hysterically at the thought.



A week later he submits his application to ANBU. Sarutobi accepts with an indiscernible look on his face, but he does accept it; he can't afford not to. ANBU had been the front line in both the war and the fight against the Kyuubi, and their numbers are still drastically thinned.

Kakashi knows this; he's counted on it.



He's assigned the codename "Wolf" and is given a stark white face mask, shaped like the snarling visage of his new name.

A wolf.

It would be funny if it didn't hurt so badly. (He can't escape that legacy even here.)

Despite this, he throws himself into ANBU training, into the mentality and the mindset of the Wolf, learning to hunt and stalk like a predator, to look at prey as "target," not "man." Because this means he doesn't have to think anymore, doesn't have to feel the hollow ache in his chest.

He sneaks and fights and sabotages and kills, until the days and weeks begin to blur together in a darkened haze. But it is still not enough, because he can still hear their voices, and their ghosts won't leave him alone.



Enemies whisper about him, and he begins to turn up in Bingo books.

Name: Unknown

Alias: Wolf

Gender: Male

Affiliation: Konoha

Rank: ANBU Black Ops; S-rank

Skills: Lightning-based ninjutsu, heightened speed, advanced taijutsu, dog-summoning, tracking

Notes: Kill on sight.

(ANBU Wolf. Never failed a mission. Red eyes—like a demon. Can summon hellhounds to tear you to pieces. If you're lucky, he'll just slice your throat before you notice.)

In some books, the order becomes "Flee on sight."



The scent of blood has always been harsh to his enhanced sense of smell, almost overwhelming, strong enough to drown in.

(—a pool of slick crimson expands slowly in the darkened room, trickling down cracks in the hardwood floors, mesmerizing a boy of six—a father slumps limply over the knife in his stomach, already growing cold to the touch—)

(—blood trickles from Obito's empty eye socket moments after Rin extracts his Sharingan, and there's something oddly perverse about the way the red pools there, about how for so long, all Obito had wanted was for his eyes to be that exact same shade—)

—he flinches violently and slams the memories away, locking them tightly back into the corner of his soul that still has the ability to feel, and viciously reinforces the barriers there.

He is Wolf. Wolf is ANBU. ANBU are weapons. They do not feel.

He doesn't notice when the smell of blood ceases to bother him.



ANBU is a dance with death.

(A kunai sails at his mask. A distraction.)

It is the elegant twist of a red-drenched katana.

(Ambush. Outnumbered.)

The flowing from once stance to another: around, up, kick, slice.

(The Wolf leaps back and pivots in midair, drawing his katana in a practiced motion.)

The shock of blood from a new wound.

(They all come at him at once. Steel flashes, deflecting kunai and senbon and rocks from an earth jutsu.)

Attacking and dodging—always just a hair's breadth from black oblivion.

(One of the kunai nicks his upper arm, just below the spiral of the ANBU tattoo branding his left shoulder. The sting goes unnoticed.

He slams his sword through the back of a Rock nin's open mouth.)

One mission, he will miss a step.

(A twist, and it comes out through the side of the corpse's head, blood and brain matter following the arc of the stroke. Lightning—pure, stark, unfeeling white—dances down the steel's length.)

The Wolf can't bring himself to care.

(Blackened char crumbles from the hole in the man's chest. Moonshine rains down, bleaching all color from the now-empty battlefield.)



He cuts straight through the enemy, slicing the body in half, then twirls and plunges a sword into a kunoichi's stomach, hearing her gasp as stomach acid begins to eat its way through her innards.



Morino Ibiki scans through the sheaf of papers in front of him before doubling back for a closer read. When he finishes, he sets down the psych evaluation, sighs heavily, and rubs his suddenly throbbing temples. He glances again at the name at the top of the file, as if it might have changed since the last time he looked. It hasn't.

Hatake Kakashi.

He sighs again.

"Well, fuck."

Weeding through the clinical evaluations of his comrades' sanity is always infinitely worse than any torture session. He'd been perfectly content never knowing what happened to his contemporary after the Kyuubi's assault. And yet here it is, laid out before him in the most impersonal of terms: paranoid, antisocial, vicious in battle, possible psychopathic behavior—further observation necessary...

He curses again.

Eventually, he places the paper in the pile to be sent to Yamanaka Daichi—the man he is newly apprenticed to and the head of the Torture and Interrogation Force—for further consideration. Somehow, though, Ibiki knows that Kakashi won't be pulled from the field. Nothing in his file irrefutably indicates any immediate danger to his squad mates, and all in all, Kakashi is just too damn good to be pulled from the field for something as menial as his mental health.

He snarls to himself, but knows there is nothing he can do. The Hatake is already hideously broken, in a way that all Ibiki's growing experience tells him cannot be fixed.



He breathes in the smell of blood (rusty, harsh) as he rams his katana though the enemy's back—through his heart (blood and tissue fly as the organ bursts, red fluid splashing, spattering moon-bright hair and mask alike)—then draws a kunai and whips around, slitting the throat of the woman rushing him in one smooth stroke.



People begin to whisper about him at home, too.

(Haven't you heard? The Wolf. Bloodthirsty bastard. Perfect record—never failed a mission.

…Yeah, I saw him work once. Never hesitates.)

The ANBU have always stood on the knife's edge of inspiring awed reverence and heart-stopping terror.

(Vicious. Terrifies half his comrades. He'll cut right through them to finish the mission. Like I said, never hesitates.

Heard he can punch a fist through a man's chest. Yeah, straight through.)

It takes a lot to become a legend among the elite.

Even more to be legendary for killing among killers.

(The jounin say it's like watching a dance. There's something too smooth about it, too… I dunno, graceful. Inhuman.)

And the legend of the Wolf spreads all too quickly among the ranks of the shinobi.

(No, no one knows who he is. ANBU identities are the Hokage's secret. I'm glad—don't wanna know who that nightmare is.)

A few of the jounin (very few) have an inkling of suspicion, but none say anything. They don't want to admit that they might know who Konoha's deadliest weapon once was.

(All I know is he used to be one of us.)



He rushes forward, katana drawn and angled one-handed at his side (the Wolf has no fangs but the whitened steel he carries). Strikes out, and vanishes into the deepening twilight, Lightning-nin's body crumpling behind him.



ANBU keeps him because he is good at what he does. He is their pet killer, a tamed wolf.

All he can do is kill. Again and again and forever.



Wolf sneaks into the target's lush bedroom, making no sound as he slips in through the window and crouches on the floor. He places his steps carefully, creeping across the room toward the bed until he can see the sleeping woman's face, matching it with his target's in his mind. He draws a kunai and reaches forward to strike when she rolls over and exposes a young boy, snuggled in the bedsheets, to his eyes. He tightens his grip on the kunai, ready to kill the mother silently and retreat before the son can see. But some survival instinct wakes the woman, and she jerks back just as his fist plunges forward.


Even so, she'll bleed out within a minute. He steps back. The woman's flailing wakes the child, and wide young eyes stare, horrified, up at his mask.

His orders are clear. No witnesses. No one can know which village ordered this killing.

A twinge of emotion breaks through his mechanical, inhuman calm. His hands tremble unnoticeably, then still after barely a second. He draws a second kunai and lets it fly.



The Wolf settles into the cover of the tree leaves, staring out with a frightening intensity. Students mingle around the low building of the Academy, but his eyes seek out one specifically, catching hold of a patch of sunshine hair and cornflower-blue eyes.

He watches until the sensei calls them in from their lunch break, stays frozen in the shadows as his eyes track the boy to the door. His intense gaze remains there, even after the boy has gone.

Minutes pass. The Wolf shakes himself out of his stupor and vanishes deeper into the trees.



"ANBU Wolf, you have been scheduled to retire from the ANBU Corps at 0800 hours today."



"This scroll contains your new assignment parameters."

To be surprised was to be dead.

"Turn in your mask."

The Wolf gave a sharp nod and pulled the snarling, red-decorated (blood spattered) mask from his face, placing it on the Commander's desk. The aged shinobi stared at him with an unreadable expression on his closed, wrinkled face. Something flashed in his eyes (sadness), but the Wolf took no notice. He was a weapon, he followed orders. Everything else was insignificant.

"You are dismissed."

The Wolf vanished in swirl of smoke.