“It’s time to say goodbye, but I think goodbyes are sad and I’d much rather say hello. Hello to a new adventure.” — Ernie Harwell
He never thought he’d be standing in the last forest in the Elemental Countries.
He never thought he’d be one of last few shinobi left who weren’t reanimated corpses.
He never thought for more than a second that they’d lose . He guessed that was what he got for ignoring the abstract even as it stared him in the face. World ending wasn’t something he could wrap his head around and so he didn’t and moved on and fought as if victory was assured as long as everyone gave it their best. Surely their best would be enough.
It wasn’t, simple as that. Madara was a cunning bastard and Kakashi understood that now. Madara knew not to engage them in something as stupid as all-out war where he would be defeated by overwhelming force—no, he let Zetsu and therefore Kaguya take those losses. He made sure the Countries imploded under their own weight, starting with Konoha.
The forest was beautiful, though. Kakashi hadn’t seen anything like it in months, not the Hashirama trees that used to be a regular occurance like oxygen in the air or a sharp edge on a kunai. The bark was rough and cracked under his hand as he watched Naruto sketch a complicated sealing array that he couldn’t hope to understand this side of a decade, and there was a certain comfort in the familiar. He wasn’t really listening to Naruto’s constant stream of chatter, but neither was Ino since she was busy refilling a bowl of blood-infused ink.
Kakashi waited for his part to play in this madness. He didn’t like thinking it, but a part of him hoped this would be it. Hoped that he would finally, finally be done. Wiped away with the timeline, left in the memories of the two people that would probably take the majority of this shitshow to the grave.
The rest of him was the sane part, the conscience, the duty. A lot of this timeline’s mistakes were his mistakes, his fuck-ups and failures. And at this point, he couldn’t even hate himself for them. They just were.
He sat down against a tree and waited, favoring the fuzziness and unfocused edge of zoning out. This clearing was warded to hell and back. He could rest a moment.
Long grass felt good between his fingers—cool and soft—nothing like the burning sand of Suna’s barren desert or Iwa’s cold rock faces or Kumo’s thin mountain air. Nothing like Kiri’s choking humidity and salt or Ame’s bone-deep chill.
“Almost there,” Naruto announced, bringing Kakashi out of his trance. The array was elaborate, with a vaguely squared off inner pattern and a sweeping Uzumaki spiral covering the rest of the clearing. Ino idly pressed a healing jutsu to her bleeding hand and gave a tired smile. “I just need the chakra and a date.”
“Take whatever you need,” Kakashi said, pulling himself to his feet. “But we should hurry.”
Ino raised an eyebrow at him, but didn’t comment. She knew that there was no point in opening that can of worms when it wouldn’t matter in about fifteen minutes, and Kakashi was glad that he could pass the torch off to the two people that really did deserve another, happier shot at their lives. There would be a fight waiting for them, but it was a fight that they knew how to win, and he was confident that his alternate self would be happier too.
That was enough. Had to be.
“You deserve it, you know. Both of us know life isn’t fair, but you’ve done more than anyone had a right to ask,” Ino said. She stood up from the edge of the sealwork and stretched each muscle at a time. “And I’m gonna tell you now because no matter how this turns out, we both know this is it.”
Maybe she didn’t know.
He shrugged. Where he usually would insert an “I’ll survive”, he couldn’t now that it wasn’t true. “Everyone gave more than we had a right to ask.”
Ino smiled—a little sad and a little resigned. It made him ache and itch like the healing wound it was. She became a good friend during this shitshow, and one that was an unsuspecting asset when fighting some of the most powerful ninjas since the Fourth Hokage.
“Yeah,” she said, voice thick. She sighed. “Yeah.”
“Hey, come on I’ve almost got this finished,” Naruto called from the other side of the clearing. “We just need the date.”
Naruto’s enthusiasm started to leak through and Kakashi was glad to see it. Ino started to get into it too, and they were too caught up in throwing dates back and forth to notice Kakashi discreetly uncovering his Sharingan, committing the sight to memory for the last few minutes of his life.
Uncovering his Sharingan saved all three of their lives.
The secondary wards surrounding the clearing flared to life with a burning flash of purple just in time to repel an enormous swath of blistering fire so intense it was bordering on blue. The heat was stifling and Kakashi was thankful for his layers of clothing offering what little protection they could. He glanced over to find Naruto and Ino crouched and ready to spring into action as soon as it became clear who they were fighting. After all, there were only four people who could make a Grand Fireball so large and so hot, two of which were technically dead and one that was incinerated.
Kakashi hoped to God that it wasn’t Obito or Madara. Because fuck that.
Luckily, or maybe unluckily, it was Sasuke’s dead-eyed corpse spewing Grand Fireballs like it was easy as breathing, which it probably was. One of the few differences between Sasuke’s Edo Tensei and almost everyone else’s was that Sasuke Uchiha never got over his hate of Konoha, never stopped being driven by scalding anger and corrupting bitterness because of the kill order Itachi was given. Sasuke didn’t bat an eye at the destruction that eventually brought the Elemental Countries, brought Konoha , to its knees.
However, Sasuke never had wanted to kill Naruto. And now he didn’t have a choice.
“Kakashi!” Ino shouted. “The wards will only last so long! We have to do this now.”
He nodded and approached the array, spotting the area meant for his blood specifically. A quick cut and a few drops later, Naruto was shoving him out of the way and erasing part of the seal-work.
“Madara’s here. We have to—only Ino can—it’ll have to be you—” Naruto babbled. His movements were frantic and Kakashi suddenly felt Madara’s oppressive chakra as it approached from behind, a gaping void of power not unlike the pull of a black hole as gravity naturally caved to what amounted to a force of nature.
Ino stood at the edge of the wards in a familiar but modified pose with a glowing blue seal tattooed onto the small of her back, and as soon as Madara showed his face and the smoke cleared, she mouthed the words of her clan’s infamous jutsu under her breath.
“ No .” Kakashi’s heart went into a sudden panic as he realized what Ino was doing. “No! Naruto how could you let her—?” He leapt forward but Naruto was faster and had his arms pinned, effectively holding him back from stopping this utter nonsense .
She would go insane. He couldn’t let another fucking kid lose their life over this, it was supposed to be her and Naruto, they were supposed to live to make it , not have their brain turned to soup for a few minutes of bought time. He couldn’t let it happen, not again, not to Ino, she should’ve gotten her chance, he—he fucking promised Kurenai and Shikamaru—
“Kakashi! Snap the fuck out of it or we won’t be doing this at all.” Kakashi tried to focus and found Naruto yanking him back to the portion of the array containing his blood. “You’re gonna have to go back, so I need a date. Any date within your lifetime that would be far enough back to fix this.”
Kakashi took a deep breath and shoved the screams sounding from behind him to the back of his mind. She was a shinobi. She took her duty seriously. He had to let her. (The echo wasn’t something he would ever forget in any lifetime, and he knew those screams would follow him until his bones turned to ash.)
“Any time before the Kannabi Bridge mission would probably suffice,” he said, and the startling tone-shift would’ve given anyone who knew him less whiplash. Naruto nodded and scrawled something quickly in his blood before shoving Kakashi into the borders of the seal.
“What’re you doing?” Kakashi demanded, not liking where this was going. Naruto said nothing as his eyes bled into Sage Mode. “It’s your seal and we’re using the demon’s chakra, so get your empty bucket of a head over here and do this fucking thing!”
Naruto’s face pinched and he refused to meet Kakashi’s eyes, which just made him all the more pissed off. Ino’s screaming was like the mechanical screeching of a radio giving feedback and it made him want to tear his own hair out by the roots. He needed answers for this now . “What the fuck are you doing ?”
“I can’t go with you, Kakashi. I wasn’t born yet.” Naruto avoided eye-contact, couldn’t seem to tear his gaze away from Ino, and Kakashi was resolute to not see that.
“Then you can change the date because I wasn’t supposed to live through this in the first place. I won’t—I can’t do this, you know I couldn’t possibly.”
“You’ll have to,” Naruto whispered, and Kakashi only barely heard it before the large sealing array lit up first a bright white and then a poisonous, volatile red as the fox’s chakra was sucked forcefully from behind the Shinigami’s seal. The Kyuubi’s enraged yowls echoed in his head.
He tried to move, tried to speak, but the pressure of the seal and the chakra was paralyzing—choking. Not being able to move or help or fight or even die, he just watched as the wards fell with an earth-shattering boom , as Ino’s screams cut off abruptly, as Naruto used what was left of his Sage Mode to avoid Sasuke’s swing of Kusanagi and Madara’s spikes.
Suddenly, the array burned a noxious yellow and Kakashi’s muscles started spasming, sending him to the ground still unable to move. He desperately tried to cling to the vestiges of consciousness, tried to ignore the burning throughout his entire body, like getting cooked from the inside out.
Without Sage Mode left, Naruto was wide open. Instead of a spike or a sword through his chest, however, it was a seal that activated when it touched Naruto’s stomach and sent him to the ground.
“I don’t know what this does, or what you think it will do, but it does have one benefit,” Madara said, turning to stare Kakashi down. Instead of activating the Sharingan like Kakashi would expect of him, he gestured to Naruto and Sasuke stepped forward to pull Naruto up by the collar even as Sasuke spat and cursed at him. Faint twitches were the only retaliation either of them could put up under the respective influence of Edo Tensei and Madara’s seal.
Madara unsheathed his sword and set it against Naruto’s throat.
No, no, fuck no—this fucking seal—
“Any last words?” the bastard asked, still staring at Kakashi.
The rage boiled in his throat, but the pain—the fire—was getting worse and it was all he could to hold that fucking gaze until his vision swam with yellows and reds and the now scorched black grass. Distantly, he heard Sasuke’s sobbing apology directed at maybe Naruto maybe him maybe God, but he really didn’t have it in him to care anymore. “Na-arut-to,” he tried, just barely getting out anything.
“Take this opportunity Kakashi,” his not-so-baby Genin said. He never did get that promotion. “Don’t make me come back from the dead to kick your ass.”
“Okay—” I will. I promise.
The sword swung. Arterial blood spurted. Got far enough to spatter his face and chest.
And then his nerves were on fire.
Rewrite as of: 4/17/18.