“There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One is roots and the other is wings.”
- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Deep thankfulness was all that was in Kakashi’s mind as he slogged back into Konoha, covered head to foot in stinking mud. His porcelain Hound mask kept slipping down his face from the moisture from his sodden face mask, which wasn’t doing his chakra reserves any favors from the frequent jolts from his Sharingan.
His Anbu team had been sent out to try and stop one of Orochimaru’s supply lines, but had instead been hit by a team of six missing-nin from Sand. Kakashi, Tenzo and Itachi were the best team Anbu had ever had, but even they had had more than they really wanted to deal with on this mission. There had been a particularly nasty water user that had led them on a merry chase for a couple of hours, but her body was now in a storage scroll along with her five other companions. None of the missing-nin had been willing to surrender, and they had been too dangerous to allow to escape. Still, the vest pocket that held the storage scroll seemed to weigh down Kakashi’s right side, as well as his soul. He admitted to himself that he was tired, and that didn’t happen often.
On his left, Itachi was limping as he ran from a hastily healed broken ankle. Kakashi could see from the exaggerated straightness of Tenzo’s back that even his irrepressible kohai was exhausted. Once they were through the gates, Kakashi made hand signals for Tenzo and Itachi to report directly to the hospital for evaluation. They peeled off silently as he made his way to the Tower to report to the Hokage. He hoped the Sandaime didn’t mind a little mud on his expensive carpets. He could have gone home first to change and then made his report, but a part of Kakashi enjoyed complicating the Hokage’s life whenever possible.
As he darted across the rooftops, Kakashi was already fervently hoping that the Hokage wasn’t in one of his more whimsical moods. The last thing he wanted to do right now was trade riddles with the old man. He wanted a shower, food, and bed. Then he wanted to wake up, give his respects to the monument, and check on Naruto at the orphanage.
Naruto was three years old already, and he had Minato-sensei’s face and Kushina-chan’s temper. Kakashi smirked, remembering the utterly glorious fit that Naruto had thrown the last time Kakashi had gone to see him and then had to leave before Naruto was ready to say goodbye. Despite his attempts to keep his distance from the boy, he and Naruto had grown fond of one another. He wished he could do more than just visit the orphanage sporadically, but with his Anbu duties, it was all he could handle. He thought of how much more Jiraiya would have been able to do for Naruto and had to fight away the burn of bitterness.
A part of Kakashi ached with pain every time he saw Naruto. His sensei’s son deserved better than being chucked into an orphanage, unacknowledged and hated by the village. Despite the little boy’s perpetual brightness, he knew that Naruto was lonely.
Kakashi landed on the windowsill outside of the Hokage’s office and made the hand signs that would allow him entrance through the wards. Once he was inside, he was surprised to see the Sandaime sitting at his desk, fully vested and regarding him solemnly. Usually the Sandaime was doing logic puzzles or otherwise fooling around to the utter dismay of his assistant. He didn’t like to do the serious village leader thing unless he absolutely had to.
“Hound-san, report,” the Sandaime ordered, his fingers steepled before his face.
Kakashi drew up to attention and gave his report mechanically, paying only half of his attention to the Hokage’s questions and responses. There was something about the Tower’s atmosphere that he didn’t like. Outside the Hokage’s office, he could hear various shinobi moving back and forth at a faster clip than normal. Something on the back of Kakashi’s neck tingled, a sensation he had learned to never ignore. Somehow, he had a feeling he wasn’t going to be getting his bath and bed anytime soon. He handed over the scroll that contained the bodies of the missing-nin, then stood quietly, his report complete.
“Thank you for your hard work, Hound-san,” the Sandaime said blandly with a click of his long fingers. At the sound, a cloaked Anbu appeared from a shadowed corner of the office, took the scroll, and body flickered away. Normally this is when Kakashi would have beat a hasty retreat too, but he waited it out this time. The old man would break before he would.
Knowing he was beat, the Sandaime sighed and relaxed, becoming again a weary man that would honestly prefer a pipe and a book rather than dealing with a ninja village. “Hound-san, I won’t belittle your intelligence and pretend that you haven’t noticed heightened activity at the tower.” Kakashi nodded blandly. “Naruto disappeared from his orphanage two days ago. We have been unable to locate him.”
Killing intent starting leaking from Kakashi’s very pores and he curled his fingers into a fist. A fist was better than reaching for his katana, which is what he really wanted to do. “What has been done to recover him?” he growled.
The Sandaime rubbed his face. “We’ve been combing the village from top to bottom. I sent a few teams of Anbu to check outside of Konoha as well. There’s been no sign of him anywhere.”
A vision of Naruto as he had last seen him flashed across Kakashi’s mind, the little whiskered face scrunched up and teary as Kakashi had walked away. Kakashi shoved that aside, feeling a vital part of himself growing cold, as it did before an assassination. “I’ll take care of this,” he growled, stalking back to the window. Why the hell hadn’t Anbu been watching Naruto? That was their job. He’d have a few questions for them once he found Naruto. No ifs. He would find his sensei’s legacy.
It wouldn’t help to kill the Hokage right now, no matter how he felt. It wouldn’t .
Kakashi landed on the ground outside the tower. He swiftly performed a water jutsu to wash the worst of the mud off of him, then a modified fire jutsu to dry off. He didn’t have time for a proper wash, not when he didn’t know if Naruto was even alive. Kami, Minato-sensei would be so disappointed in him for not watching out for Naruto better.
Kakashi slid into an alley, nicked his thumb and summoned his ninken. Pakkun, Bull, Urushi, Shiba, Akino and Uuhei seemed to catch the tenor of Kakashi’s chakra instantly and didn’t give him any shit for once. “What’s up, boss?” Pakkun asked, his hackles raised high against his back.
“Naruto’s missing,” Kakashi said shortly. “He’s been gone for two days already. You know his scent. Start at the orphanage. If you don’t find his scent there, spread out and find his trail. Howl for me once you do and we’ll all converge on your position.”
Pakkun growled. The pack had met Naruto on multiple occasions and they all liked him (once they got past his strong fox smell). “We’ll find the pup,” the pug promised. Smoothly, the pack pulled away and headed towards the corner of Konoha that housed the orphanage, Kakashi running with them. “What are you going to do while we’re looking for the pup, boss?” Pakkun asked from his position beside Kakashi.
Behind his mask, Kakashi smiled. It was not a nice smile. “I’m going to have a word with the orphanage director. Find out how a three year old boy goes missing on his watch.”
Pakkun winced. He did not want to be in that guy’s sandals today.
Kakashi strode into the orphanage entry way with all the subtlety of a battering ram. The Anbu get up was terrifying to civilians, and it was something he wasn’t afraid to use to his advantage. He looked at the cowering receptionist and growled, “Director. Now.” She jumped up and scurried away with a muffled eep as the pack started sniffing around.
The director came trotting out from a back office, the receptionist obviously having decided that discretion was the better part of valor in the face of Kakashi’s clear disdain and stayed away. “May I help you, Anbu-san?” the squirrely man said as he eyed Kakashi nervously.
“Yes,” Kakashi said pleasantly. “You can tell me how Uzumaki Naruto disappeared while in the care of your orphanage.”
The man rolled his eyes and it was all Kakashi could do to keep from stabbing him in one of them. “That brat is more trouble than all the rest of the boys here put together. He’s always going where he isn’t wanted, stealing from the kitchen and shouting in the yard. When he didn’t show up for a couple of meals in a row, we decided we’d better report it.”
“Wait,” Kakashi said, not believing that anybody could be this callous. Or stupid. “You mean he could have been missing longer than two days?”
The director shrugged. “I guess. Nobody really noticed.”
Pakkun saved the director from certain death by howling, “We’ve got the scent boss! It looks like the pup left with three other men.” He sniffed again and sneezed. “Kiri-nin, from the scent of it.”
As one, the pack turned and dashed out of the building. Kakashi scowled at the director. “This isn’t over,” he ground out between gritted teeth, then he followed the pack.
They ran for longer than Kakashi cared to remember. He found himself hoping that somebody was at least carrying Naruto, that he hadn’t been forced along this distance on his little legs. They passed over the border of Fire and Kakashi gulped down a soldier pill to keep going.
Finally, finally, Pakkun stopped short. “We’re close,” he whispered to Kakashi. “I can smell the pup and those Mist bastards.”
Kakashi used a few quick hand signals and the ninken obediently fanned out, disappearing into the undergrowth. He damped down his chakra as much as he could in case the Kiri-nin had a sensor, then stalked forward until the Mist camp was in view. There were three Kiri, Anbu level from the masks they were wearing. He’d have to work quickly while he still had the element of surprise. He was good, but three Anbu level opponents would be rough. He was grateful the ninken were there.
Having taken in the shinobi part of the equation, Kakashi looked for their captive next and found him quickly, spotting a shock of yellow hair directly in the middle of the camp. Naruto was alive and Kakashi felt his shoulders relax in relief. Naruto had been staked to a metal post like a goat, a chain wrapped tightly around his reddened ankle. He didn’t look hungry or thirsty and he wasn’t crying, but it was the look on Naruto’s face made Kakashi’s heart ache. He looked absolutely hopeless, like he knew no one would come for him. The boy slumped against his post, dejected, defeated. Kakashi wondered how much of the indomitable spirit Naruto had always shown him before was simply an act, a mask like the ones that Kakashi wore.
Kakashi opened his Sharingan and drew in a slow breath when he realized that the ground underneath Naruto was sealed to explode if he was moved without the proper precautions. Well, that would be fun to deal with. So much for body flickering in, grabbing Naruto, and flickering out again, which had been his original plan.
One of the Kiri-nin drew up close to Naruto and Kakashi tensed, ready to spring forward. The Kiri-nin leaned over and shot a bit of fire jutsu through the chain around Naruto’s ankle. Naruto whimpered as he was burned ever so slightly; Kakashi saw now that his ankle was reddened not from friction as he had previously assumed, but from this cruel trick. The Kiri-nin laughed at Naruto’s soft cry and made the hand signs to do the jutsu again.
He never got the chance.
Kakashi burst out of the undergrowth. He tossed a poisoned senbon at one of the Kiri-nin on the perimeter, then thrust a handful of lightning through the chest of Naruto’s tormenter with a shout of “ Chidori!” The pack converged on the third nin with a mask like a grouper. The first nin, whose mask was of a shark, deflected Kakashi’s senbon and came after him. Kakashi leapt in front of Naruto and led the fight away from the boy, his katana sparking against Shark’s ninjato. They fought furiously, blades slashing too quickly for either of them to form hand signs for jutsu.
Inside a blur of teeth, claws and fur, Kakashi heard Grouper suddenly shout, then fall silent. The ninken turned to help Kakashi, and Shark realized that he was vastly outnumbered. He turned to run, but Kakashi body flickered to land directly in front of the nin, then caught him a genjutsu with his Sharingan. He was able to stop then, panting. “Thanks, guys,” he gasped to the ninken. He staggered for a moment from the sudden chakra drain from his Sharingan.
“Better seal him up quick, boss, you look like you’re ready to fall over,” Bull advised solemnly. Kakashi took his advice, and in minutes all three Kiri-nin were sealed inside another scroll that was tucked into Kakashi’s vest.
The area secure, Kakashi turned and dashed over to Naruto, who was sitting wide eyed and trembling at his post. Naruto looked up at Kakashi as he approached and shrieked, “No hurt Naruto!” before huddling to the ground, his hands covering his head protectively.
Kakashi stopped short, irrationally hurt, before he suddenly realized that Naruto had never seen him in his Anbu uniform before. He must have looked similar to the Kiri Anbu, and naturally that would frighten a small child.
It was a hard and fast rule that an Anbu was never supposed to remove their mask around civilians, but in the face of a teary little boy with shocky blue eyes, Kakashi could not honestly give less of a shit. He shrugged off his mask and it fell from his fingers to the ground with a soft clink. There was a heaviness to the mask as it fell that Kakashi knew he would examine later.
Naruto’s whole face brightened when he saw Kakashi’s more familiar masked face. “‘Kashi-san!” he crowed, reached his chubby arms out to Kakashi.
Kakashi wanted nothing more than to gather Naruto up in his arms and run him straight back to Konoha, but first he had to take care of the barrier underneath him. “Yo, Naruto,” he said casually with a flick of his fingers. “You’re okay now. Sit still for just a minute more, okay?”
Naruto pouted, but as he was chained to the ground, he couldn’t exactly disobey. Kakashi examined at the barrier with his Sharingan. Thankfully, the seal was fairly rudimentary, especially to a student of Namikaze Minato. Kakashi found the seal’s weak point and fed a needle of chakra into it. The whole seal lit up blue, then faded away. Naruto clapped in joy at the brief light show and Kakashi found himself smiling genuinely for the first time in days.
Kakashi broke the chain around Naruto’s ankle, thought fuck it to himself, and cuddled Naruto up in his arms. Naruto wrapped his arms around Kakashi’s neck and buried his face into the material of his face mask, breathing deep. Kakashi felt a noise escape his throat which if he’d been younger would have been a sob. “Are you okay, Naruto?” he whispered.
Naruto grumbled. “Mean men grab me,” he complained. He pointed to his ankle. “Ouch.”
Kakashi nodded. “Yup. Ouch. Hang tight, I’ll fix that.” He molded healing chakra in his hand, then ran it over Naruto’s burned ankle. He wasn’t able to completely regenerate the damaged skin, but judging from Naruto’s relieved sigh, he’d at least lessened the pain. The Kyuubi should take care of the rest fairly quickly now that the burn wasn’t constantly being refreshed. “Any more ouch?” he asked awkwardly.
“No, no more ouch, ‘Kashi-san,” Naruto said with a shake of his head. He leaned heavily against Kakashi’s chest. “Tired.”
“I know,” Kakashi said kindly, some forgotten impulse from his childhood pushing him to ruffle Naruto’s hair lightly. “I’m taking you home now.”
“Home,” Naruto repeated, his tone bemused. “What’s home, ‘Kashi-san?”
Shuddering, Kakashi found himself promising fiercely, “You’ll find out soon enough.”
As much as he wanted to carry Naruto home himself, Kakashi was simply too exhausted. He carefully tied the sleeping boy to Bull’s back, put his Hound mask back on, and then put every ounce of his strength into making it back to Konoha. When he crossed over the border of Fire, he felt an Anbu team fall in to flank him and he felt a part of himself relax. He’d have back up if he was attacked now.
The Anbu team led Kakashi and the ninken straight to the Hokage’s office. The old man was standing in front of his desk, looking relieved as they filed in. He eyed Naruto. “Report. How is the boy, Hound?”
Kakashi was already carefully untying Naruto and then cradled the small boy in his arms as he turned to answer. “He’s fine now, Hokage-sama. I can’t say the same for the Mist Anbu that abducted him, though.” For the second time in his recent memory, he pulled a scroll holding bodies from his vest and tossed it onto the Sandaime’s desk.
The Hokage nodded. “Thank you, Hound-san. We have classed this situation as an S-rank mission and you will be compensated accordingly. We’ll make sure Naruto is returned to his orphanage safely. You are dismissed.”
An Anbu stepped forward to take Naruto from Kakashi’s arms. Before he could think it through, Kakashi had stepped back to gain some distance and growled at the Anbu. Pack, his blood sang. Mine. “No,” he said. “He’s not going back there.”
Sighing, the Hokage started to say, “Hound-san, it’s the safest place for him, the only place for him-”
“That’s not true,” Kakashi interrupted. “He wasn’t safe there. They barely cared enough to report him missing.”
“Which is something that will be addressed,” the Sandaime said, frowning. “What else could I do? None of the clans would foster him.”
“I’ll take him,” Kakashi said. He felt like he was having an out of body experience as he slowly walked forward, and placed his Hound mask on the Hokage’s desk. “I have served this village as a shinobi since I was five years old. I have been a member of Anbu for four years. I will continue to serve as a jounin, but I can no longer be this village’s strong arm in the shadows.” He glanced down at the burden in his arms and felt the utter rightness of it. “This child needs me more. He’ll be safe with me, and my sensei’s legacy will live on in comfort, as he has always deserved.”
Gravely, the Sandaime considered Kakashi. “Are you absolutely determined on this path? There may be repercussions that you don’t understand.”
Kakashi stared at the Sandaime dead in the eyes. He knew his absolute conviction would be visible. To protect Naruto, he would even scratch through the leaf on his hitai-ate and become a missing nin. No price was too high. “Yes, Hokage-sama.”
“Very well.” The Hokage stepped behind his desk. “Hatake Kakashi, on behalf of the village of Konoha, I thank you for your service. From this day forward, you will be known as a jounin shinobi. However, I do not release you from Anbu. Your mission until I tell you otherwise is to protect Uzumaki Naruto from harm. He is your responsibility from now on. Do you accept?”
“Yes,” Kakashi said, his heart lighter than it had been in years. “I accept.”
It was all well and good making grand declarations before the Hokage, but it became clear pretty damn fast that Kakashi didn’t have a clue as to how to raise a very rambunctious three year old. He had taken Naruto with him back to his small room in the Anbu dorm and had crashed...only to be awoken a scant few hours later by a completely recovered Naruto, who was hungry and absolutely not interested in further sleep. Kakashi had wearily scraped together a quick breakfast of toast and an only slightly brown banana, then started to plan.
First on the list was a new place to live. Kakashi couldn’t raise a child in the Anbu dorm, Naruto would be be stuck full of pointy objects the first time he woke someone up after a mission. The obvious solution was the abandoned Hatake compound, but Kakashi just couldn’t face that. Too many ghosts, too many memories. Thanks to all of the S-class missions he’d been taking for the last decade, his bank account was sizeable. Why not buy a new place altogether? Someplace quiet, with a yard for Naruto and the dogs, someplace easy to defend? They both could use someplace...unburdened.
Cheered by the notion, Kakashi got himself and Naruto cleaned up, which was just a whole new kind of adventure as Naruto had somehow managed to get banana in his hair . Kakashi put on a jounin uniform, pleased with being able to roll up the sleeves and slouch. He never could in the Anbu uniform; they always had to look aggressive, intimidating, straight backed and solemn. Naruto didn’t have any fresh clothes, and Kakashi would be damned if he took him back to the orphanage to get whatever pitiful possessions he had there, so he tossed the boy into one of his t-shirts and marched off to the store.
A clearly amused worker at the store helped him pick out the basics of what Naruto would need (three year olds apparently still needed diapers occasionally? Fuck. ) while he tried to keep Naruto somewhat corralled and away from anything orange. He remembered the Yellow Flash and the Red Hot Habanero and wondered if the orange thing had been passed down in utero somehow. He managed to put on a pair of blue shorts and a white t-shirt with an orange sun on the front (apparently, three year olds had to be negotiated with, or there were copious amounts of tears) on Naruto’s wriggling body and counted it a win. They left the store with Naruto clutching a fuzzy stuffed frog to his chest. Kakashi had faced down missing-nin, enemy jutsu of all sort and freaking Orochimaru, but apparently he wasn’t badass enough to say no to a little boy holding a plushie and looking up at him hopefully.
He had a feeling that he was setting a bad precedent for the future, but he pushed that thought aside. One thing at a time.
The rest of the day, Kakashi and Naruto were traipsing all over Konoha, looking at vacant apartments and houses, with frequent stops at food carts to fill Naruto’s seemingly bottomless stomach. The little boy’s face was streaked with soy sauce and a grin when Kakashi handed over a stack of cash to an ecstatic real estate agent, purchasing the small three bedroom house he’d found. It was located conveniently to the Academy and Hokage Tower, and already had a tall fence around the property that Kakashi knew he could easily get warded. The house itself was small, but there was plenty of yard, enough for a garden if he ever got the time to put one in. Even better, the house was already partially furnished. He and Naruto camped out that night on their new living room floor in a cozy nest of blankets and pillows, the pack fanned out around them protectively. Kakashi woke up the next morning with a small boy asleep on top of his chest, and knew that he had done the right thing.
Maybe Minato-sensei would be proud of him after all.
Kakashi thought Gai’s enthusiasm would deafen him when his so-called eternal rival discovered him grocery shopping with Naruto. He knew he was deaf for sure when Gai then heard of his leaving Anbu and Naruto’s adoption. “I wouldn’t have expected anything less from such a Youthful and Hip Comrade! I know that you will conquer this challenge with aplomb, as you have all others, Kakashi!” Gai leapt on top of a display of cantaloupes and blinded a few irate shoppers with the power of his smile.
“Thanks, Gai,” Kakashi said weakly as he held a crying Naruto. “Now lower the volume, will you? I’ve got a kid here.”
Gai apologized (as quietly as he was capable of), and then made up for it by bullying all of the jounin and chunin he had ever met in his life into helping Kakashi get the new house set up. Suddenly there were pots and pans in the kitchen, bookshelves in the spare room, and a shower curtain with little kunai being hung in the bathroom. Kakashi was sickened to find Kurenai and Yugao cooing while putting up cartoon frog wallpaper in Naruto’s room. When had frogs become a thing? He hadn’t signed off on that. Dogs were much better. When he dared to express this viewpoint, however, he was pelted with Naruto’s alarmingly growing collection of plushies and ejected from the room altogether.
The moving in turned into a raucous housewarming party that evening, as such things tended to do when shinobi like Izumo and Kotetsu were around. While Kakashi longed to boot everyone from his house as this was more social interaction than he’d had in the last five years put together, he had to admit that it did warm something deep in his belly to see his friends celebrating his new life, passing Naruto around for snuggles and toasting everything in sight.
His friends. Huh. Where had that come from?
He stepped outside at one point for a breather and found another runaway from the festivities. It was a chunin that had arrived with Asuma, his ponytail high and his vest crackling from newness. He was carefully walking the borders of the fence and drawing squiggles and lines in a little notebook with a dolphin on the front. He looked up at Kakashi as he approached and the jounin was reminded strongly of a startled deer. “Yo,” he said casually, trying to keep the chunin from bolting.
Worse, the chunin bowed respectfully. “Good evening, Hatake-san. I am sorry to impose, but Asuma assured me that it was all right for me to come along.”
“Maa, if I know Asuma, he didn’t assure you of anything,” Kakashi drawled, leaning against the fence. “He probably just dragged you here by the ponytail and expected you to be happy about it.”
The chunin snorted and quickly covered his scarred nose with his hand. Adorable. “Got it in one,” he admitted. “I think he’s been hanging around Gai-san too much on missions. Personal liberties don’t seem to register with him.”
Kakashi nodded toward the notebook in the chunin’s hand. “So you decided to thank him with impressionistic drawings?”
“Oh, no!” the chunin said, horrified. “I was actually drawing up some ideas I had on some barriers that you might want to put in here. Wards, seals, barriers, traps...they’re my specialty. I doodle on them whenever I get a break.” He glanced back towards the house, his eyes shadowed. “A lot of people would like to take what you have here, Hatake-san,” he said quietly. “You’ll need to take precautions.”
Kakashi stepped closer to take a better look at the notebook and was surprised to see a rather clever rendition of a five seal barrier. He studied the chunin’s slight changes and noted that anyone who tried to cross the barrier without approved chakra would be...was that the symbol for lightning? His eyes gleamed. He had to know more about this particular shinobi. “Oh, that’s nasty ,” he said admiringly. “What’s your name?”
The chunin grinned, and it changed his whole demeanor. “Iruka. Umino Iruka.”
“Iruka,” Kakashi said, grinning back. He took Iruka’s elbow in his hand so that they could walk together. “Show me what else you’ve got in that creative little notebook of yours.”
Finally, late that night, everyone had trickled away until only Asuma, Kurenai and Tenzo were left, drinking sake in the living room and snacking on spring rolls. Kakashi slipped away to put Naruto to bed. He poured the drooping little boy into fuzzy orange footed pajamas with little foxes printed on them. He even pulled up the hood with the tiny felt ears in a fit of whimsy. (Kakashi had absolutely not purchased these pajamas; he was relatively certain Anko was to blame. She had a twisted sense of humor.)
Gingerly, feeling somewhat like holding a sleepy little boy was akin to handling an exploding tag, Kakashi rolled Naruto into bed and pulled the covers up over his pliant body. Pakkun hopped up and curled next to Naruto, while Bull snored thunderously from the corner.
“‘Kashi-san?” Naruto asked muzzily, pulling his stuffed frog closer. “Is this home?”
Kakashi put his hand over Naruto’s little foot, that feeling of pack rising in his chest again. “Yes,” Naruto-kun,” he said, his throat thick. “This is home now.”
“Good,” Naruto said with a sigh. “It’s nice. G’night, ‘Kashi-nii-san.”
Kakashi swallowed. Big brother. This was about more than protection, now. It was devotion. “Goodnight, Naruto. Sleep well...otouto.”