It was hot this morning, Kakashi arrived just as dawn was breaking; the first rays of daylight cutting through the cool night air like a scythe sweeping through the night. The longer he stood the more the heat seeped into his bones but he didn't let it bother him. The sweat collecting at the nape of his neck, curling the ends of silver hair was uncomfortable but he'd dealt with worse and this... Kakashi needed this. Especially on a day like today.
The stone was wet with dew and he ran the tips of his fingers over it, over the names he could never forget, faces that were always on his mind. The ones who still held sway over his life even today. Every day he lived, he lived for them. It gave him purpose when he'd been aimless. He wanted to make them proud.
Kakashi didn't have a shrine in his home for his ancestors. He didn't know much of his own history beyond his parents even if he'd wanted to but it didn't matter. All the people he'd loved, those who'd left him behind, were all right here. He paid his respects and visited them every day he was able, anyway.
Well, almost all the people he loved.
Kakashi thought about his team. It seemed like just yesterday that he'd had three little genin, fresh from the Academy. For a short while they'd been his. His to teach, his to care for, and his to mold into the shinobi that he knew they could someday become. It hadn't been long, nearly a year he'd had them, before they were gone. Scattered to the wind like leaves caught along in a strong current, they were lost to him before he even acknowledged it had been a possibility.
Kakashi was aware of how royally he'd fucked up on that score. He knew he spent too much time focused on one and not enough on the others, but by the time he'd realized, it was too late. His only reprieve was that they'd been given opportunities to learn from others more fitting. His failure to unite them hadn't completely destroyed any chance they might have had at becoming great shinobi.
On the contrary, they seemed to have flourished without him. That he felt a certain emptiness in his chest at the knowledge anyway didn't matter. They were better off— well, most of them were.
He wondered what Obito would have thought of his having letting the last of his clan slip out of the village and away into the enemy's grasp.
Sasuke had been so like him, Kakashi had once thought, but truthfully? He wasn't, not really.
It'd been too long since Kakashi felt anything stronger than apathy or slight amusement, too long since he'd felt any emotion that even came near to being as strong as Sasuke's need for revenge was and it was – he could admit it now, if only to himself and only here in this place, in front of those he still respected most – a grave mistake on his part.
Kakashi knew what it felt to have your whole world collapse around you. One by one, everyone he cared about was picked off almost seemingly with purpose – even though with death, their usually wasn't any – and Kakashi had felt the burn of vengefulness intimately. Kakashi had wanted to hurt and maim and destroy but with the Kyuubi gone and the war soon over he had nowhere to focus his anger upon. He joined ANBU but that did little to stop the fury. Eventually, things being what they were, the impotent rage that built up inside of him sputtered out into nothingness all on its own. It even got to the point where it didn't affect him on a daily basis anymore.
But for Sasuke... the cause of all Sasuke's pain, the focus of all his fury had a name and a face – and that it looked so much like Sasuke's own was of no consequence. In fact, it only served to make the fire burn hotter. Sasuke's need was overwhelming and all-consuming, something Kakashi had underestimated.
Even now, all these years later Kakashi could still hear Obito's voice in his head as if he were alive and well and standing beside him. Obito hadn't always been rational, he'd been annoying and opinionated and idealistic and at the time, Kakashi thought him a miserable excuse for a shinobi but the boy he'd known and the one he came to respect were like two sides of a coin. They weren't always visible at the same time but you couldn't accept one without accepting the other.
Obito wouldn't tell him that the gradual destruction and dismantling of his team hadn't been Kakashi's fault but he would tell Kakashi to stop hogging all the guilt. That he hadn't been the only person who could have made a difference. He wasn't the only person to let Sasuke down; just the last in a long line of them. Obito would have said that Sasuke was the type of shinobi who was led by the emotions he tried so hard to conceal and probably would have gotten into trouble regardless.
Kakashi could hear Obito's admonishment in his head clear as day. He tried to accept the words the boy he knew will never get to say but the guilt still ate away at him. It gnawed on his stomach like a dog did an old bone. He couldn't accept it, try as he might, but he learned to live with it – it was what he did, after all. Kakashi learned to live and cope with a lot of things.
The sun had risen during his internal contemplation. Kakashi opened an eye he hadn't realized he'd closed and looked down at the list of names carved in stone.
He could read them more clearly in the daylight. There was one in particular that would always stand out. He closed his eye again, remembering.
Namikaze Minato had been more than just a teacher and a mentor, he'd been a friend when Kakashi wanted none and he'd been family when Kakashi had none. It was difficult for Kakashi to put into words just how much his sensei had immersed himself into Kakashi's life at a time when nothing made sense. How Kakashi learned to rely on the man to keep him grounded when things became too much.
He owed the man so much; he only wished he could do right by his son but Naruto was grown now, a shinobi in his own right and Kakashi could honestly say he didn't have much to do with that. There wasn't anything left for him to do. Kakashi couldn't teach him or guide him because Naruto had moved beyond the need for teachers and aside from his knowledge of the ninja arts, Kakashi had nothing else to give. It was a harsh realization but also something he was becoming used to.
It was then that he sensed the presence, it hovered just beyond the boundaries of his ken, almost unnoticeable, but Kakashi knew it was there and said nothing. He didn't have to wait long, the young man was known for his need of acknowledgement and attention but not his patience.
Naruto moved to stand beside him, quietly for once, his gaze on the stone while his mind was clearly elsewhere. Kakashi quieted his thoughts and stayed at rest, waiting.
"How can you stand out here for so long when it's so hot?" Naruto finally asked, wiping sweat off his brow with the back of his hand.
Kakashi blinked then looked up at the sky and then his surroundings as if he'd just become aware of the temperature. "Is it? I hadn't noticed."
Naruto scowled and crossed his arms. "I should have expected that."
"Should you?" Kakashi asked. It was a curious thing to say.
"Of course," Naruto's reply was so matter-of-fact Kakashi raised an eyebrow.
It also seemed to be all the reply he was going to get. "And why is that?"
Naruto looked over at him, assessing him for something Kakashi wasn't sure of. After a short moment he spoke.
"You like to lie, Kakashi, but more than that you like to keep people at a distance."
Naruto's eyes met his then, a brilliant blue gaze holding his own before continuing. Kakashi felt tendrils of apprehension trickle up his spine.
"You lie about everything. If it's not about why you're late then it's about where you're going or why you can't stick around. It's in the way you omit certain things about yourself you don't want others to know. And it's not because you're shy or arrogant... or crazy. Or because you're a pervert," Naruto added with a grin. "It's because you care, Kakashi."
Kakashi's shoulders tensed slightly but he didn't interrupt.
"You care but you don't want anyone to think you care, so you play at being aloof and arrogant even when you don't really mean it because that's what everyone expects of you. It's easier to lie and push people away than it is to tell the truth and face the opinions of people you respect, isn't it, Kakashi?"
Naruto wasn't smiling as he finished. His face was as honest and open as it ever was and his eyes pinned Kakashi in place but it also had a serene quality to it that Kakashi had never seen in him before. The expression should have looked out of place on Naruto but it... didn't. In fact, it was strangely fitting somehow.
Kakashi found he was at a loss for words. He looked to the stone for guidance.