He who opens a school door, closes a prison.
Kakashi wondered how long it would take for the smell of burned flesh to clear from the air. With too many bodies to bury, they had been burned instead. And now, weeks later, the air still seemed thick and oily.
His knees hurt. He had been kneeling for too long, or perhaps he was getting old. He felt old. And tired.
His task was nearly complete, anyway. His hands, which had been so deft at dealing death now clutched a simple chisel and hammer. Ridiculous. His handwriting had always been awful, the bane of that one chuunin-sensei's life – what had his name been, again?
Kakashi set the chisel aside and swept his fingers up the rows of names upon the Memorial Stone; the newest of them still sharp and new.
Ah yes, Umino Iruka. He had been the one who –
Kakashi closed his eye, and with the ease of long practice banished the memory before it could take him to other, darker places.
He picked up the chisel and continued.
It was a cramp in his hand that finally forced him to stop, an hour later. Strange that he could flash through seals with perfect accuracy so fast he could not even follow his own movements, yet it was the manual labor that got to him.
There were many more names to still be added, but he was already late. No surprise there. Honestly, the council should learn to expect it by now.
Yet… Kakashi could not shake his conviction that the village could not begin to move forward again until they paid homage to the dead.
He knew he should go, but he swept his gaze upwards anyway, landing on a familiar name.
"You would be in hysterics if you saw me now, Obito," he murmured, before reaching over to pick up the large brimmed white hat he'd set aside when he began his work. Holding it on his lap with reverence he did not show in public, he sought out one final name on the stone. "But I know it should be you here, Naruto."
He could almost hear his former student's voice, shrill with displeasure, yelling at him from the stone: What was his perverted, terminally lazy sensei sitting here chiseling the names of the dead when there were asses in the council to kick?
"Maa, maybe you are right," Kakashi said. And, after replacing his hat, he made his slow way back to what remained of the Hokage's Tower.
Sakura was there to greet him at the door, clipboard tucked under an arm as if for all the world like she had been expecting him there at this minute. Perhaps she had.
Once his former student and now his assistant, she had stepped into the role as the Hokage's aid as if she were a reincarnation of Shizune.
"Hokage-sama, the council has been waiting for over an hour," she said, falling into step at his side.
"Yes, about that. I was asked to test out the new flavors of ramen at Ichiraku's," Kakashi replied. "I didn't want to offend one of our best merchants by saying no."
The corner of her mouth twitched up slightly. After Madara's final assault, and an encounter with Uchiha Sasuke's fire technique, Sakura had cut her pink hair short into a sensible bob. A red bandana covered the scarring at the top of her scalp, but nothing could be done for the ruined half of her face. She had use of only one eye and the other side of her mouth pulled downward due to a thick, red scar. She would never be a beauty again, but she still was a strong and capable kunoichi.
Kakashi still liked to see her smile. Even if it wasn't very much of one, anymore.
"Lair," she muttered, echoing old times, and looked down at her clipboard. "Two more shinobi have been declared fit for duty. Shiranui Genma, Special Jounin and Inoue Udon, Chuunin."
Kakashi gave a nod. "Good."
Madara's last stand had left them under powered and under populated, worse than the Kyubi attacks nearly two decades ago. It would take Konoha years to recover.
They reached the doors which led to the council chambers, but Sakura made a quick motion to stop before he could step inside. "One more thing," she said, and withdrew a slim scroll from her pocket before handing it over. "Yamato's reconstruction crew found this under the rubble of the Uchiha compound."
Like most of Konoha, the buildings of the once fabled clan were leveled in the attack. It was currently being rebuilt as a series of low-income civilian housing blocks. Kakashi occasionally did find justice to be fitting.
His amusement fell away upon closer inspection of the scroll. He glanced up, sharply. "Who else has seen this?"
"Yamato, myself, and Shikamaru from T&I," Sakura replied, and scanned around to make sure they were not overheard before lowering her voice. "Kakashi-sensei? What is it?"
Kakashi did not answer at first; simply slipped the scroll away in the deep folds of his Hokage robes. He gave his assistant a mild look. "I'm not sure yet, but let's keep this among ourselves, ne?"
Her shoulders tightened ever so slightly, but she was quick and nodded, "Yes sir," and in a normal voice meant to be overheard, added, "The Council will see you at once, Hokage-sama." She opened the door and Kakashi meandered inside.
The council meeting was as dull and tedious as ever, and as soon as it was adjourned Kakashi practically fled (In his liquid, unhurried way, of course. Even Hokage's had to keep up appearances) to his office, and sealed the doors and windows with the most vicious wards he knew.
Only then did he take out the scroll and re-read it.
The kanji and seals painted within made up a framework of almost bafflingly complex puzzle. Monstrous in design.
Using his sharingan, it soon became clear.
This had to be one of the great secrets of the Uchiha clan, Kakashi thought. A bead of sweat trickled down his temple. One not even Itachi or Sasuke knew about, or else…
… Or else things would have been much, much different.
It was, for all intents and purposes, the key to a time-travel justu.
According to the scroll, the user could only travel backwards within the span of his own lifetime. And even then... it took an enormous amount of energy. The further one went back, the more chakra it took.
There would be no telling how far back he could go: Yesterday, the start of the war, Sandaime's death, Sensei's death, Obito…
It hit Kakashi then that he was not just speculating. He was planning on doing this.
After all, not taking this chance meant he could never change things, never get a second chance to prevent the deaths of those close to him…
… And as he said more than once, those who abandoned their comrades were worse than trash.
He would go back as far as his chakra held out. The drain might be fatal, but he was willing to risk it. If he could change only one thing, warn someone of Sasuke and Madara's threat…
The letters on the scroll lit in blinding white as they activated. The light was so bright it looked like, just for a moment, lightening had struck the Hokage's tower.
Kakashi woke to a mouth as dry as sawdust, his sharingan eye drilling a hole backwards into his brain, and generally feeling as if he had been rolled over by an Akimichi.
He blinked open his eye and it took a few moments of concentration to focus on what was above him; a familiar woman I medic uniform and beyond her a sterile white ceiling. The hospital, then. How…?
It came back to him, then, all in a flash.
"…date…" he rasped.
The medic near him looked startled. "What was that, Hound-san?"
He swallowed past the dryness and tried again, "What… day…"
"You've been out for three days due to chakra exhaustion," she said, her grey eyes full of sympathy. "The guard found you half-dead at the gates. If you excuse me, the Hokage waned to know when you woke."
She bustled off, leaving Kakashi feeling slightly clubbed. So, it had worked. At least he was not the Hokage any longer. And he had not missed the fact that she had called him by his ANBU name.
Too late to save Obito, he thought, with a flash of honest regret. Or Minato-sensei.
But that still left a large space of time, and he could be anywhere in it. He joined ANBU in the weeks following the Kyubi attack, and still took special missions on the side for years after he'd officially retired. No one ever left ANBU completely.
So when was he? Was he too late after all?
Kakashi had not felt himself drifting off – chakra exhaustion was a bitch like that – and when he woke up next there was a visitor to his bedside.
"Ah, Kakashi," Sandaime said, leaning back to suck at the end of his pipe. He looked like he was trying not to smile. "Is this the second or third time you've exhausted yourself this year?"
"Sandaime-sama." Kakashi moved slightly, trying to sit up, but lethargy made his limbs heavy. The old man held up a hand to forestall the gesture.
"This is becoming far too frequent for my liking, Kakashi. Even the best of us need to take a break." He paused and blew out a puff of smoke. "As it happens, I have a favor to ask of you. A certain few Genins have graduated."
Kakashi's eye widened as it all fell into place. It was that day. The day Sandaime asked him to retire from ANBU and take on a Genin team.
The first time around, Kakashi had been mildly put out, convinced that his skills were more useful elsewhere. The Hokage had spent an hour wearing him down by talk, flattery, and sheer determination. Finally, he had convinced Kakashi to at least test them.
"—One is the last Uchiha in Konoha," Sandaime continued. "He is head of his class and his instructors praise him as a genius. The second is Naruto Uzumaki." A pause. "I know you're aware of him."
"I'll do it."
"The third—" Sandaime halted, startled. "You're agreeing?"
He didn't have enough energy to sit up, but Kakashi could at least curve his eye up at the man. "Maa, I think such a team is just what I've been looking for. They may keep me on my toes."
"Oh," Sandaime said, clearly startled but happy. "Yes, that they will." The Hokage rose then, showing none of the stiffness of his age. "You will make a good teacher, Kakashi-sensei."
Good? No, Kakashi thought, after the old man had left the room. He had been merely passable at best. Naruto and Sakura had both gone on to be great ninja's in their own right, but Sasuke…
Kakashi leaned back against his pillow and closed his eye. He hadn't come back as far as he would have liked, but it was a critical point all the same. Team Seven as children again. Fresh. Perhaps, moldable.
His lips twisted into a smile under his mask. This time, he would do it right.
Next time: Kakashi will meet his genin team for the first time. Again.