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Ear to the Wall

Chapter Text

 

When Kakashi opens his eyes, he realizes he’s drowning.

The world around him is waterlogged and muted, spinning in all directions. His chest is on fire, and when he gapes his mouth wide to gasp in a breath, there’s nothing there to breathe. His head is pounding and eerily silent all at once, as if there’s a war going on inside of it but he’s gone deaf to all the noise. He can’t focus on any one thing, but rather all of  it at once.

Eventually, he comes to figure out that there’s a pressure against him, at his left side. He shoves at it, and it falls away. Second later, it comes back a hundredfold, ramming into him with a force that, had he any breath in him, it would have been knocked out with prejudice.

He blinks moisture from his eyes, and finally realizes the pressure is a surface- two surfaces. A bed, and the floor. Currently, his body lay pressed against hardwood. It was cold and wet. Or, Kakashi was cold and wet.

He pushes up off the floor, uneasily putting feet beneath him and attempting to find a center. He wobbles upright painfully slowly, still uncertain which was was truly up. He thinks he’s home, because while there is blind panic and pain, there is a faint sense of familiarity. Not quite safe, but when was he really, anymore?

He carefully turns himself around and stumbles to where he thinks the bathroom door is. He grabs the knob and wrenches it open, body tilting forward precariously into the room, only to get an abrupt face full of dry, musty fabrics.

Kakashi tears himself back, feet falling over himself. He hits the floor again, hard, and stares up dumbly at the open bathroom. Except, it’s not the bathroom. It’s a closet.

Kakashi doesn’t have a closet.

Or, he ponders at the back of a sickenly pulsating mind, he hadn’t had a closet in a while- not in years, actually. He turns his head, eyes scanning the room he’s sitting on the floor of. His eyes go in and out of focus. They’re having trouble staying in place whenever he aims them at something. Things are close, and then further away and blurrier than they had been a second ago, and he doesn’t even blink. Eventually, Kakashi pieces together his location.

Yes, it’s his apartment. At the same time, it isn’t, because Kakashi hasn’t owned this apartment since he was ten years old.

Still, it wasn’t like he doesn’t remember the layout. Teetering on unsteady limbs, the ninja hauls himself back to his feet and maneuvers his body, which was being rather difficult with him at the moment, toward where he recalls the bathroom to actually be. This time, when he opens the door, it’s not a closet, and he practically collapses onto the tile. He almost doesn’t make it to the toilet.

When he finishes attempting to expel the nauseating pit of whatever it was from his stomach, and failing, he pulls the lever with a weak, shaking hand that his eyes are convinced is farther away than it should be, and rests his clammy, sweaty forehead against the porcelain seat. He closes his eyes, and just sits here for a moment, too tired and miserable to even think.

Kakashi isn’t quite certain how long he’s there, on the floor of the bathroom in the apartment he’d sold before he was even a teenager. He pukes three more times- he thinks, it might have been more, he wasn’t exactly counting here- and all that comes up is bile, burning through his esophagus and leaving a sick, acidic taste in his mouth. It could have been hours, or days, or minutes. Maybe he falls asleep, but he isn’t sure.

He blinks once, and finds himself on the floor, not sure how he got there and staring at his hand that lies on the tile next to his face. It’s still too small, too far away. Which is weird, once his eyes have finally stopped shaking all around in his skull, they are able to focus on everything else now except, it seems, himself. He blinks a few more times in the hopes to better adjust them, but his own body remains strangely distorted in comparison to his surroundings. Like the world is there, existing, but Kakashi is not. Or suppose to be, but having trouble doing it all the way.

Kakashi frowns, dizzy and sick and irritated that he is having so much trouble with something as simple as existing in the reality that he has, until now, had zero complications existing in.

The door thumps oddly. Kakashi stares at it with dull eyes, puzzled that it is making noise when, last he’d checked, doors were inanimate objects that generally remain silent when left on their own.

It thumps again, and says, “Kakashi?”

Kakashi blinks. He wonders what kind of reality he is trying to exist in here, where doors are able to speak to people, and sound like his old sensei.

He supposes that, in a weird, abstract way, it somewhat makes sense. Doors are dead trees, after all, and Minato-sensei is also dead. Is this what happens to people when they die? Kakashi pauses for a moment, and wonders if he himself is dead. Maybe that’s why he‘s having trouble existing here. He hasn’t possessed a door like his sensei had. Maybe he would become the toilet, instead, since he’s so close to it right now.

Kakashi can’t help but assume that to be a rather... undesirable existence. He doesn’t think he’d been that terrible when he’d been alive, had he? No puppies had been kicked, certainly, no babies eaten, no Icha Icha left unread.

Kakashi doesn’t think he really deserves to be a toilet.

“Kakashi?” The door asks once more, this time opening itself in its apparent worry for him. It was nice of it to be concerned like that, but Kakashi finds himself wondering when it was that it had closed in the first place. He doesn’t remember shutting it when he’d come in. Maybe it had closed itself, being sentient and all, to give him some privacy while he was upchucking his own stomach. How kind.

Kakashi’s eyes fall shut again, too heavy for him to keep open, and he turns his face against the tile. It‘s nice and cold. It feels soothing on his clammy skin. The world isn’t throwing itself in all directions anymore, and he definitely feels grateful that it has at last decided to settle down.

A pressure slips underneath his limp body, lifting him away from the floor. It feels like hands. Does the door have hands? Kakashi mourns the loss of the stable surface that the floor had provided. At least he isn’t drowning anymore.

“Oh, Kakashi…” the door sighs quietly.

 

 

The second time Kakashi wakes up, he thinks about the first, and has to pause for a moment, because holy fuck, what a fever dream!

Or not? He’d obviously been high on something last night. He’d been hallucinating pretty hard. Doors that could talk and sounded like Minato-sensei, honestly? What the hell?

He sits up, carefully, already anticipating the hangover before it even comes.

And it does come, crashing down upon him with a vengeful fury, angry that he’d made such terrible life choices. Kakashi doesn’t really blame it.

His head throbs so powerfully that he has to lie down again, but sits right back up and brings his hands around to his front, palms facing up toward the ceiling and fingers spread out wide. He stares down at them, absolutely befuddled.

They’re still too small.

Before he has a chance to contemplate whether or not he is still under the influence, as is so clearly the case, the door of the bedroom he’s in (again, his childhood apartment. Now that his heads a bit clearer, Kakashi realizes that this apartment isn’t even suppose to standing anymore. It had been destroyed in Pein’s attack on Konoha, and not been rebuilt. Which now begs the question; how is Kakashi here, when here doesn’t exist?).

“Kakashi,” someone says, and Kakashi thinks he’s sober enough now to know that it isn’t the door.

He still must be a little high, though, because that’s definitely Minato-sensei’s voice speaking.

Then someone steps into the room, and Kakashi looks at them, at him, and just blinks for a moment, hoping that‘ll clear up his vision a bit. He’s still hallucinating, clearly, because that’s Minato-sensei standing there, with Minato-sensei’s relieved smile and Minato-sensei’s blonde hair.

Kakashi pushes at the energy that exists inside of him, until it’s outside him and in the air, reaching outward, feeling, tasting, and- there. Minato-sensei’s chakra.

Just to make sure, Kakashi opens his mouth, and croaks out (in a voice that is not his, mind), “Minato-sensei?”

The Minato-sensei beams at him, and replies, “Kakashi! I’m glad you’re awake,” and, yup, that’s Minato-sensei’s voice.

Kakashi falls back down against the bed, closing his eyes. It’s too short of a way down, and he clenches hands that are too tiny and feeble and not his in dog-print sheets he hasn’t owned for decades.

Kakashi feels like crying. Why doesn’t it make sense?

 

Chapter Text

“Are you sure you want to go into training today, Kakashi?” Minato asks for what seems like the hundredth time, and it may be repetitive, but so is Kakashi’s answer of “I’m fine,” which, clearly, is an absolute lie.

Even forgetting the fact that Minato had literally walked in on the boy regurgitating his guts not half an hour ago, Kakashi looks like he’d just walked out of hell and hadn’t even received the complimentary t-shirt to smooth things over. The bags under the kid’s eyes look like they have bags of their own, standing out in stark contrast against his paler-than-normal skin. His clothes are soaked through with sweat, face clammy, eyes half-lidded and duller than Kushina’s kitchen knives. Minato had dragged the boy off the bathroom floor and plopped him into a kitchen chair twenty minutes ago, and he hasn’t moved a muscle since.

Kakashi’s eyes flicker up to his, and then back down to where his hands are clasped in his lap. “Yeah.”

Minato narrows his eyes.

“Are you,” he asks, “really sure that you’ll be able to, um, keep up with the others? You look a little bit…”

Like shit, he wants to say, but the last time he’d cursed in front of a kid, Kushina had somehow found out about it despite being away on a mission all the way in Grass Country at the time, and there had been some not-very-fun things to pay when she’d gotten home.

Kakashi coughs, and it sounds like his spleen has lodged itself in his throat for a second before he swallows it back down again. Minato grimaces.

“Yeah,” he repeats, dully.

“Well, I’m not sure that I want you out there, when you’re looking like this,” Minato says a little too loudly, pushing up from his chair.

There’s a short moment of silence. Kakashi glances up at him from beneath his lashes, presses his chapped lips together, and averts his gaze to the floor. Minato immediately feels like a jerk for raising his voice.

It’s been awkward between the two of them, since Kakashi’s father had… well. Minato is the only adult in Kakashi’s life left who has any sort of guardianship ties with him. They hadn't been a team for very long preceding the suicide, and even before then Kakashi hadn’t known Minato all that well. Right now, Minato is as good as a stranger to Kakashi, a stranger who has say in his life and can make decisions for him.

Sometimes Minato can’t help but think Kakashi probably resents him for that, just a bit.

He sits back down with a sigh, folding his hands into his lap and staring down at them like they held all the answers he was looking for. Kakashi stay still across the table from him, silent. Minato can feel his stare, but he doesn’t dare glance up to meet it. He doesn’t feel like he can face whatever he’d find there right now.

“I’m just,” He begins, quieter, and then trails of with another sigh, rubbing the bridge of his nose with his fingers. “You’re sick, Kakashi.”

Kakashi stares at him.

“Wh-When people are sick, they tend to stay home and rest so they can get better,” Minato tries again.

Kakashi sniffs.

Minato looks up, blinking in alarm at the way Kakashi’s eyes have taken on a watery edge. He stands up again, this time circling around the table to kneel beside the boy’s chair.

“Uh, Kakashi, are you—“

“I don’t wanna be a toilet,” Kakashi mumbles under his breath, reaching up a gloved hand to rub at his face. He’s still dressed in his clothes from yesterday, hadn’t even bothered to change into pajamas, which is a sign that something is wrong in and of itself, Minato thinks, before he wonders briefly whether Kakashi even owns pajamas. He just, doesn’t seem like the type of person to have flannel in his life.

Also, what?

“Of course you don’t,” Minato soothes, rubbing a hand between Kakashi’s shoulders. He pushes his bewilderment aside for the moment, figuring Kakashi just means that he was tired of puking, which, who wouldn’t be? The poor kid shudders beneath his touch.

Minato bites his lip. “And, um, you probably aren’t hungry after all of… that, but you look like you could eat. Do you wanna try to get something down, or—?”

Kakashi is shaking his head before Minato can even finish his sentence. “Nngh,” He says, and looks increasingly queasy at the very mention of food.

“Alright, so,” Minato says, and gestures helplessly for a second, unsure, “we should—we should probably get you into bed, then, so you can, um, rest this away and all that...?”

“Mm,” Kakashi replies, and then doesn’t move at all.

Minato smiles weakly, and wonders what he’s suppose to do now.


Kakashi has absolutely no idea what’s going on.

It was one thing to hallucinate vision and sound, but touch? Smell? Even if Kakashi’s brain had the imaginative ability to dream up a delusion of this magnitude—which he wasn’t quite sure it did, but it has surprised him before, so who knows—Kakashi would have bet more on it choosing to base it within one of the many traumatic events that peppered his existence, rather than whatever this weird, slice-of-life type setting is suppose to be.

Minato-sensei, who was very much dead and gone, thank you very much, is making him chicken soup in the kitchen of his childhood apartment that didn’t exist. Minato-sensei didn’t cook, because he was really bad at it and Kushina-neechan had long since forbidden him from stepping foot within any room that even resembled a kitchen whatsoever.

Kakashi peels down his mask—a dark navy blue, instead of the mute black he’d taken to during his stint in ANBU and had never gone back—tilts his head back against the pillow and takes a deep inhale through his nose. He coughs roughly, tears pricking at the corner of his eyes, at the scent of burning rice.

Dream or not, Kakashi’s apartment is about to go down in flames years prematurely, and the only thing going through Kakashi’s head right now, because he simply does not want to think about anything deeper, is that he has to stop this before the consequences become irreversible.

He throws back the thin sheet he’s been lying under and stumbles his way out of the bedroom, somehow making it down the short, narrow hallway without running face-first into a wall which, honestly, counts as a small victory. He narrows his eyes at his socked toes, placing each foot carefully in front of the other on the linoleum, because apparently they refuse to do so themselves, and finally looks up when he sees another pair of feet encroach on his vision. He raises a shaky hand, and taps on the middle of the back—the only spot he can reach at the moment—of the Minato-sensei currently staring with great concentration at the stove top.

The man jumps, sloshing boiling water across the counter top, and spins around with a hand held to his heart. “K-Kakashi! Y-You’re suppose to be asleep!”

Kakashi blinks up at him, and slowly brings a hand up to point over at the rice cooker, which has a thin trail of smoke billowing from the vent. It’s a little concerning that this Minato-sensei had not only been startled by Kakashi, who doesn’t think he was being all that quiet, what with all the running into furniture he’d been doing on the way to the kitchen, but also hadn’t noticed the sharp smell of burning grains. Seems weird, is all, that a ninja would experience such tunnel-vision.

“Wh- Oh,” the Minato-sensei exclaims, and rushes over to fan at the smoke with a panicked expression on his face.

Kakashi stares at him for a moment.

“Could you, um, get some water, I don’t—”

Kakashi closes his eyes, sighs quietly against the mask he doesn’t remember pulling back up, and goes over to unplug the cooker from the wall socket.

Minato goes still, and stands there staring at the cord in Kakashi’s hand for a moment without speaking. After a few seconds, he begins to laugh sheepishly, scratching at the back of his head and averting his gaze to the kitchen’s open window.

A pang of grief strikes Kakashi in the gut at the familiar embarrassed tick, and for a moment the Minato-sensei standing before him has whisker marks on both cheeks, before they vanish when Kakashi blinks. The nin sucks in a ragged breath, drops the cord to the floor, doubling over himself and burying his face into his hands, like the action of covering his eyes would make what he is seeing disappear. He takes a shaky step forward and rests his forehead against the table just so that he doesn’t have to bear the entirety of his own weight anymore.

Despite being in a body too small, he feels heavier than he had when he’d been the right size.

A click sounds as the stove burner is turned off, and a hand places itself gently, hesitantly, against his back. “Kakashi?”

He presses his hands harder against his face, digging the palms into his eye sockets and making spots appear against the black of his vision.

“... Maybe I should take you to the hospital,” is murmured quietly, more to Minato-sensei himself than for Kakashi to hear, but he still hears and let’s his shoulder drop from where they’d been held up near his ears with tension.

“No,” he says, straightening from the table and looking up at a worried Minato-sensei.

There’s a strange sort of calm suddenly enveloping him, and he almost sighs at the absence of the incredulous panic that‘s been plaguing him since he’d woken up the first time.

Minato-sensei sighs, running a hand through his hair. And it’s definitely Minato-sensei’s hair, nobody else is that blonde, not even Naruto. “Kakashi, I really think—”

“What’s the date?” Kakashi asks, listing to the side a bit. He catches himself on the edge of the table and uses it as leverage to hoist himself into a chair.

Minato-sensei is eying him, a look of great concern on his face. “It’s the twelfth of April, Kakashi—are you sure you don’t want to see a doctor?”

Kakashi blinks at him. Who in their right mind wants to see a doctor? 

“Yeah,” he says, and looks around for a calendar, because it’s one thing asking for the day and month, but the year? Minato-sensei would check him into the psych ward for sure, which. Is a rather undesirable outcome, if you ask Kakashi.

There’s one on the fridge, held up by a weird smiley face magnet that smells distinctly of Rin, with a hint of Minato-sensei, and Kakashi wishes he’d looked for it before he’d asked, because all the information he wants is listed right there.

Well, hindsight.

It’s almost a year after his father died.

Kakashi looks away from the calendar to find Minato-sensei staring at him, glancing over the the fridge and then back at Kakashi with a look of sorrow in his blue eyes.

The blonde nin pulls out one of the other three kitchen chairs—why does he have so many when it was always only just him?—and hauls it next to Kakashi’s, sitting in it with a soft, quiet sigh.

“Kakashi,” he starts, and then stops.

In the ensuing silence, Kakashi risks a glance at the man from underneath his bangs—he has bangs again, this is weird—to find Minato-sensei looking more lost than he can ever remember seeing the man, and turns back to stare at the table in thought.

April, the year after his father died.

Minato-sensei has only been his pseudo-guardian for barely six-months, at this point. Though technically he’d held the position for the months before that, Minato had only become sensei of Team Seven when Rin and Obito had become genin, which was last November, going by the dates.

Kakashi wants to scream, but stops to wonder if he even has the energy for it right now.

“Why don’t you go back to bed? Call one of your ninken, maybe? I haven’t seen them in a while, I bet they’d like to stretch their legs,” Minato-sensei is saying from beside him. Kakashi glances at him to find him also staring at the table. He looks over to catch Kakashi’s eye, and returns his gaze to the wooden surface awkwardly.

“Plus,” he adds, sounding like he’s making excuses, “I’d feel better knowing you had someone looking after you, and Pakkun is a smart dog.”

“Don’t cook anymore,” Kakashi hears himself say, fingers already forming the Ram seal without realizing he's doing it.

“Right,” Minato-sensei has the decency to look embarrassed. “I won’t.”

There’s a puff of smoke, and Pakkun is there immediately, looking smaller and with a younger face. Kakashi can’t bring himself to look at him any closer than that, so he has no idea what expression the dog is wearing, but judging from Minato’s raised brows, maybe he doesn’t want to.

The sensei kneels before Pakkun, looking the dog in the eye. His ninken had always liked Minato-sensei, because he treated them like comrades, talking to them directly like they’re their own persons. Not everyone, even ninja sometimes, have the presence of mind to do that.

“Take care of him for me, alright?” Minato-sensei says, holding out a fist.

Pakkun raises a paw and touches it to his knuckles. Kakashi sees it from the corner of his eyes, refusing to look up from the tabletop. For some reason, something in him finds it hilarious, and he buries his face into his arms to stave off a bout of unwelcome laughter.

“Hai,” he hears Pakkun bark, softly.

Minato-sensei’s hand comes to rest on his back a few seconds later, staying there long enough to leave behind warmth when it leaves. Kakashi hears the door to the apartment open and shut.

There’s a click of nail against wood as Pakkun hops up on the table, nails clacking as he walks across it to nose at Kakashi’s hair.

“What’s the matter with you, Little Boss?” The dog wonders.

Kakashi breaks.

Chapter Text

He’s on house arrest.

Of course, Minato-sensei and Pakkun don'tcall it that, per say, but the results are kind of exactly the same. Can Kakashi leave the apartment? No, Kakashi is sick, and needs to stay home and rest. Does it matter if Kakashi has business outside that he needs to take care of? What sort of business could Kakashi, who is very sick mind you, have to take care of today? All he had was training, and Minato-sensei has already excused him from that today.

Excused him from seeing Rin and Obito again.

Kakashi can’t decide whether or not he hates himself, when all he can dredge up in response to that is feelings of bone-weary relief. He doesn’t think he’s ready to see them again. He doesn’t think he’ll ever be. They’ve been dead to him for years. He’d barely been able to handle seeing Minato-sensei and, as he glances down at the paper napkin he was mindlessly shredding in his hands as a worried ninken watches on, he wonders if he isactually handling that at all.

“Little Boss?” Pakkun asks again, insistent, and Kakashi grimaces beneath his mask.

Pakkun and the other ninken, the older ninken that he’d been handed down from his dad after the man’s death, had all called him this in the beginning. Back before Kakashi had proven himself as a capable ninja and, more importantly, a capable comrade. It wasn’t until he’d called for Pakkun in desperation during a rather botched mission at the border, when he was ten, that the old pug had started dropping the “Little” and just used “Boss”. The other ninken had followed his lead.

Kakashi hasn’t been called Little Boss for decades. Something deep inside his chest aches viciously at the reminder that, no matter how much he’d secretly been hoping against hope, this Pakkun isn’t his Pakkun. Not from the future, and not now, when a seven year old Kakashi has yet to prove he is a worthy summoner.

“I’m,” He starts, and then clears his throat when the word catches. “I’m fine.”

“You’re not,” Pakkun tells him, lifting a paw and striking it firmly, if gentler than Kakashi expected, over his head.

He winces anyway, and rubs at the spot. The pug looks down his nose at him. “What’s the matter with you, today? I haven’t seen you cry since, well…”

Pakkun falls silent. Kakashi glances at the calendar on the fridge, and shreds another corner off the napkin, letting it fall down to the table with the rest of itself.

The pug sniffs at him, almost reproachfully, and instead of continuing on the same vein, says, “You reek, Little Boss. You could use a bath.”

“Mm,” Kakashi replies, neither agreeing or disagreeing.

Pakkun narrows his eyes. “Since you’re apparently paralyzed, I’ll go draw one up for you. But you better take it, alright?”

“Mm,” Kakashi says again, eyes being drawn to the window. It’d be best, he thinks, if this past-version of Pakkun left him alone for a moment. He needs time to… adjust.

The ninken whuffs at his hair one last time before hopping down off the table. He casts one final glance back at Kakashi, who continues to stare out the window and doesn’t meet his gaze, before trotting off down the hallway to the bathroom.

The sky is bright outside, the overcast of thin white clouds reflecting the light of the sun down on the world. Kakashi drops what’s left of the napkin down on the table and leans back in his seat with a soft sigh.

He’s alone. Well, he is and he isn’t. He’s got Minato-Sensei, and Pakkun, on that hand he’s got the rest of his team and literally everyone else who’d died and, now, in this moment in time, hasn’t yet. On the other hand, everyone Kakashi had known and gotten close to and cherished from this point onward until the until the very last waking moment that he's just not quite able to remember, is… gone. Just, gone.

The edges of his eyes burn. He rubs at them, and they burn even harsher. Something is choking him, but he’s alone in the room. He’s alone.

He grabs the table’s edge and maneuvers himself out of the chair, getting his bearings before carefully placing his foot ahead of the other. Walking gets easier the more steps he takes, and by the time he gets to the window he feels more stable than he has since before waking up that first time. Kakashi places his hands on the sill, mindless of the chipping white paint that litters it, and lifts himself up to peer outside.

Kakashi’s childhood apartment overlooks a graveyard. He tilts his head as he surveys the neat, orderly lines of headstones and family shrines. He sniffles a bit, and rubs at his nose, and then shakes his head so roughly it pulsates in protest. He doesn’t remember this, but then again, he'd never been one for taking in the scenery when there was training to be done, last he was nine.

It’s an older cemetery, less crowded and smaller than the more frequently visited one off the main road. The graves are spaced out and well-maintained, from what little Kakashi can discern at this distance. The field is dotted with far-away pinpricks of color, flowers nestled close to the stones. Other than that, it looks deserted. There’s a tall wall of red stone that circles the field, topped with an occasional clay pot, that were probably full of flowers themselves.

Oh, Kakashi thinks, rubbing at his shoulder with clawed fingers. His eyes are drawn to the left of the field, to the newer headstones. To the looming shrines that denote clan heads and elders, and the like, shining obelisks that sit darkly under the sheerly clouded morning sun. This yard is where his father is buried.

No wonder he doesn’t remember seeing it through his window before. His past self had probably gone to great lengths to avoid looking out at it, and being reminded.

Something sharp tugs in his gut. Kakashi stumbles back from the window sill and finds himself leaning against the wall of the entryway. The world spins dizzyingly for a moment, and he blinks as a cold wind begins to buffet him in the face. Goosebumps rise up on his bare arms, and he glances around. He’s standing out on the street in a T-shirt, without shoes, and Kakashi isn’t quite certain how he had come all the way down here from his third floor apartment without noticing. That’s something that should probably be a bit worrying, perhaps. Actually, it is worrying, very much so, but as of this moment Kakashi can’t quite dredge up the motivation to feel upset over it.

Later, perhaps, he thinks absently as he turns his body to face the direction of the cemetery. He has a lot of things to say to a certain someone, right now, and they’re all bouncing around aimlessly inside his head, off the corners and colliding with each other, some fast, others slow, and all in all, Kakashi is unable to make heads or tails of them. The one thing he does know is that they can’t stay locked inside there. They've just gotta be spoken. Its a familiar feeling, one he's had before, all throughout his entire life since he was twelve.

He places a foot in front of the other, and walks.

 

There’s somebody else in the graveyard, and Kakashi is a second away from feeling perturbed about this before he realizes that it is sort of a public place, and other people are allowed inside here to visit the dead, not just him. It isn’t Kakashi’s graveyard, he doesn’t own it, and if he did, well, that would be a little sad, wouldn’t it? That isn't to say that people who do happen to own cemeteries are sad, just that if Kakashi were to own one, it... it would be. It'd be sad. That's all he can think.

The figure is blurring together with the tree that sits just behind them, and it takes a while for Kakashi’s eyes to adjust to the difference of not being in motion, because he’s stopped by the wall, under the shade of an entirely different tree. By the time his vision corrects itself, the person has been joined by another person, taller and yet hunched over, and Kakashi instantly recognizes them both. Somewhere in his chest there’s a sharp, niggling discomfort that slides to the back of his torso and climbs up his spine like the cold fingers of a half rotted corpse, and he feels uneasy as he watches Danzō place a comforting, fatherly hand on the hunched shoulder of Orochimaru.

It’s the clearest feelings he’s experienced since coming to the past—something in Kakashi’s head wails hysterically at the thought—and he clings to it for lack of anything better to do.

He thinks back on what he knows, trying to make sense of what he’s seeing. The only reason he can come up with to explain Orochimaru’s presence in the graveyard—discarding the more, uh, illegal reasons, and Kakashi isn’t sure whether this Orochimaru is quite that far gone yet—is that the Sannin is visiting the graves. What else would someone come to a graveyard for, other than ohaka mairi?

Kakashi stands there for a moment or two, watching Danzō converse in low tones with a silent and still Orochimaru, and it takes him longer than he feels it should to realize that the only graves Orochimaru would be visiting at this point in time are those of the his own parents.

An ugly, foul taste climbs up his throat. He swallows it down, and moves on the next thought. It’s just as pleasant.

The only explanation for the esteemed elder’s presence in the cemetery is that he’s here specifically to speak to Orochimaru. About what? What is so vital that Danzō couldn’t wait for Orochimaru to finish his grave visit before approaching him? It obviously isn’t an emergency, or the old warmonger wouldn’t be wasting time with pleasantries. Kakashi knows Danzō isn’t one for most societal norms in the least, but even he should know its an unspoken rule amongst shinobi or even civilians to leave each other be during such moments of vulnerability and grief.

Oh, Kakashi thinks, and steps forward out of the shade of the tree.

His back is straight and his head is clear for the very first time in what feels like actual days. He glances down at his feet, makes sure his footing is stable, and hurries over to the duo with as much aplomb as he can muster.

Danzō is at the cemetery, speaking to Orochimaru over the graves of his parents because the sannin is vulnerable here, right now, where he wouldn’t be anywhere else.

Two pairs of sharp eyes strike him almost like blows from a kunai as he reaches them, panting from exertion. It feels like he’s just run a mile, when he’s barely covered two hundred meters. Inwardly, Kakashi is a little mortified.

Still, he raises his head high after a quick bow, in which he is terrified he might actually fall over and greatly relieved that he does not, and focuses his gaze somewhere on Danzo’s shoulder. The left one. It is preferable, even if the moment in time his right is disfigured into a crime against everything sacred has yet to come to pass.

“Danzō-sama,” he says in the voice of giving the Hokage a mission report, straight to the point without room for anything less serious. His efforts earn him a raised eyebrow. “Hokage-sama requests your presence.”

“Is that so,” the slimy, underhanded war-lover says almost indifferently as he looks down his nose at Kakashi. “And why would he send a newly minted Genin to inform me of this, instead of, say, one of the ANBU that constantly sit around him at all times?”

If Kakashi could focus on anything other than a) his urgent desire to just go back to bed, and b) the goal of this current conversation, he might feel offended. Danzō isn’t nearly out of any loop at all, he would know that Kakashi, even at this age, was already a chunin, and the Hokage wouldn’t send any of his elite guard on something as D-rank as an in village courier mission.

If Kakashi could focus on anything else, he’d scoff. Inwardly. So Danzō couldn’t hear and send a ROOT agent after seven year old Kakashi for being a brat. Kakashi wouldn’t put it past the man.

He barely catches the scornful sneer that Orochimaru sends the councilman's way when he isn't looking. Kakashi feels a spark of smugness erupt in his chest. He sketches another bow, and then vows vehemently not to do so again as he straightens up sporting a brand new level of headache.

“Danzō-sama,” he says again. “He said only that he would like you promptly, and your location. I know nothing else.”

“Of course you don’t,” the bastard, who probably has herpes or something equally as gross, sneers at him. He turns back to the Sannin, who has remained silent.

Kakashi eyes him as well. Orochimaru hasn’t moved away from the headstones that he stands over almost protectively. His head is bent slightly to look at them, and he hasn’t said a word.

“We will conclude this conversation at a later date, I suppose,” Danzō sighs like it’s some great big inconvenience, to be called on by the Hokage. The wrinkled old militarist folds his arms into the sweeping sleeves of his robe and steps away. “It was pleasant to see you again, Orochimaru-kun.”

Kakashi barely withholds a shudder at the overly-familiar address. Orochimaru says nothing. Danzō’s eyes narrow as he takes his leave.

It leaves the two of them, the Sannin and Kakashi, alone in the cemetery. Kakashi must admit, he hadn’t quite thought this far ahead when he’d approached initially, and now he hasn’t a clue what to do after achieving what he’d come over for.

He lets his posture go, bone-deep weariness creeping up on him now that the adrenaline is seeping away—which, what? No? Come back?— and he slumps against the trunk of the tree that sits a snug five feet away from where the snake sage currently stands. His head swims viciously. Probably has fish in it by now.

Kakashi’s ninja-brain screams at him to stop, but he’s tired, and miserable, and he’d just lied to Danzō, for Orochimaru , so he closes his eyes and lets his head fall against the chilled, knobbly bark.

Chapter Text

When he opens his eyes a few moments later—though with how things have been going it may have been minutes or even an hour, Kakashi doesn’t quite trust his sense of time right now—he meets gold.

He immediately tries to lean away, but it seems he’s already self-sabotaged that option, as the tree he’s leaning on is, by the rules of this land, obviously still there. Orochimaru’s face is uncomfortable close to his own, though, closer than Kakashi’s allowed the snake sannin to ever be in regards to himself. If this were the future, around the time of the botched Chunin Exams perhaps, Kakashi would be dead right now.

Which makes it curious, to find that he’s still breathing, though Kakashi’s rational mind tells him that the times are different. This Orochimaru is still loyal to the village—whatever that means to Orochimaru, the nin still can’t very well harm Kakashi without retribution.

“You lied to him,” the sannin breaths, and Kakashi prays to whatever god that will listen that the burning curiosity he can see in Orochimaru’s eyes is just his imagination. “Why?”

Kakashi crosses his arms over his chest, going for a indifferent air, but he only succeeds in hugging himself. Orochimaru backs off a step, and Kakashi blinks.

He intends to give an excuse, something about how ohaka mairi shouldn’t be interrupted, and Kakashi was just being polite in the way that Danzō hadn’t been, but what comes out is, “You’re like me.”

It makes both of them blink, and for a moment neither of them speak, because for all that they are geniuses, encountering confusion somewhere they didn’t expect to throws them both for a loop.

Orochimaru overcomes the awkward pause quickly though, quicker than Kakashi, because while he’s still trying to gather his thoughts and figure out what the fuck , the sannin is already putting forth another inquiry.

“What makes you think that we share any similarities?” Orochimaru asks, and if the words are backed by a quality not unlike a sneer, well—Kakashi isn’t sure if Orochimaru actually means for it to be there.

It feels like both of them have been caught slightly off guard.

The question posed, however, makes Kakashi stop and think. He considers the spot in time that he’s in, what was currently happening in the village at this time, what had been happening in the village, the general behavior of the villagers, and ultimately what type of person Orochimaru was.

Despite his instinctual reaction to deny that he and Orochimaru had anything in common at all, the fact of the matter was that the two of them aren't actually all that different from each other. Both Kakashi and Orochimaru were highly intelligent from a young age, the bona fide Konoha-produced genii. Both have grown up in general isolation, during war time, and don’t quite know how to function in times of peace.

Both, Kakashi realized, have at one point or another, been shunned for who they were, for simply existing where other people determined that they should not.

Kakashi looks up at Orochimaru and, after a moment of contemplation, where it’s more him trying to struggle past all the cotton filling his head than actually thinking, says, “The eyes follow you around the village, too.”

It wasn’t because either of them were famous. Though, in Orochimaru’s case, that may be a part of it. Except, his reputation inspires fear, not admiration. Kind of like Naruto as a child.

And, great, now he's drawing parallels between the snake sannin and his student. A quick picture of a chibi Orochimaru with spiky blond hair flashes before his eyes, and he can practically feel the fight drain out of him in horror. Kakashi goes lax against the tree and brings up a hand to rub wearily at his eye. Something keeps trying to wrestle up his throat. He almost longs for the porcelain throne again, but valiantly shoves aside the flickering thought.

“Of course they do,” Orochimaru actually does scoff this time, but Kakashi thinks it’s a bit telling that the older nin hasn’t just up and left already. The graveyard or the village. He sounds bitter. Something like sympathy tugs at Kakashi’s gut. “I’m not exactly an unknown ninja.”

“They’re not friendly, though,” Kakashi points out quietly.

Orochimaru’s eyes sharpen, pinning him like shuriken.

“They aren’t kind, because they don’t like what you represent.” Kakashi continues. He tilts his head back and stares up at the higher branches of the tree they’re under. “...Or me.”

He pushes off the trunk, placing feet carefully in front of each other, and makes his way across the cemetery. The grave he’s looking for isn’t actually that far from where Orochimaru’s parents lie buried, and something inside Kakashi finds a sick sort of irony at that. He doesn’t have to glance behind him to know the sannin is silently at his heels. Like a hound following a scent, tracking, doggedly. Ha.

Kakashi comes to a stop in front of his father’s grave. Staring at it now, kanji he hasn’t looked at in far too long, set into stone that’s an entirely different color than the monument he’s spent too large a chunk of his life wasting away in front of, pondering regrets and, later, betrayal.

His father’s name should have been on the memorial stone, Kakashi understands that now. To stand here before the man’s gravesite, knowing that it isn't, and that there is not a single person in this village who would support it being counted among those who have given their lives for them—Kakashi feels sick all over again.

He reaches out and touches the stone. “They judge us, because they think they have the right to.”

He tells this to the man standing directly behind him. Orochimaru doesn’t move to reply, and Kakashi isn’t sure why, but he feels like he can trust the nin not to try anything here. Unlike Danzō, Orochimaru understands the respect that a grave visit demands. For all of a grave visit that this is. Kakashi hasn't even brought any food to offer. He's not even wearing shoes. He's practically in his pajamas.

Something that feels like hysteria claws at his chest, and for a brief, sharp moment, the longing Kakashi has for his father to be here with him now, alive, has never been starker.

“They assume that what they think matters,” Kakashi murmurs, feeling almost lost in thought and painfully in the moment all at once. His mouth is moving and forming these words all on its own. He lets it. “So they hold it over our heads, and teach everyone else to as well. And, somehow, they never understand that it’s their own faults, too. That we’re like this because of them.”

The world spins dizzily around him. Something tugs sharply on the collar of his shirt, and once he blinks, he finds himself dangling from Orochimaru’s grasp, swinging haphazardly over the ground.

The sannin pulls him up and sets him back on his feet without a word. Kakashi wobbles for a moment, and then gives it up as a bad job, maneuvering himself down onto the ground. It’s cold. There is a light coating of frost on the ground. He glances up at the sky, trying to find the glimmer of the sun’s position, but everything’s overcast with a thick layer of clouds that makes the entire sky a blindingly white blanket of light. He immediately squeezes his eyes shut and brings his hands up to cover them, turning his face down toward his lap. Is it actually in the morning? Kakashi feels like he’s been up for days already.

“He’d still be here,” he mumbles into his palms, “If it wasn’t for them. If it wasn't for them, he'd be alive." And if he sounds a little accusing, a little hurt, a little angry at the world and how cruel it can be to the ones who are only trying to protect it—well, Orochimaru doesn’t comment on it. "But he's not. And now we’re both alone.”

A cold, chilling hand presses against his forehead where his forehead protector would normally sit—he hasn’t seen it at all since waking up in this time, Kakashi realizes with a jolt—and pulls away after a moment.

“You’re practically boiling in your own skin,” Orochimaru diagnoses, and sounds almost impressed.

“But I’m cold,” Kakashi states confusedly. He tugs on the flimsy t-shirt he’d worn out, and turns an accusing stare on his bare feet, as if it were their fault that Kakashi hadn’t seen fit to clothe them properly before leaving the apartment.

A whispering chuckle sounds from above him, and he glances up with increasingly unreliable vision to see the sannin standing over him, looking amused.

“Where is it that you lived, again?” Orochimaru asks him, like he’d known the location before but had forgotten. It’s a bit alarming, something far off in the distance of his mind notes.

Kakashi’s eyes roll up into the back of his head.

Perhaps he’d overestimated himself.

 

 

“Where’s the sugar?” The snake sannin’s voice calls from the doorway into the kitchen of his childhood apartment. Kakashi struggles to sit up from the soft, tempting, siren call of the couch cushions to peer over at him. The androgynous nin stands between the two rooms, leaning a shoulder against the door trim. His arms are crossed across his chest, one eyebrow raised.

Kakashi squints his eyes, trying to recall the usual state of the cupboards of a Kakashi around this age, and decides, “I don’t think there is any.”

The look Orochimaru gives him would say ‘are you insane?’ on anybody else’s face, but on Orochimaru it just comes across as a sharp ‘I can’t believe I’m in the presence of such a complete simpleton,’ and it makes Kakashi feel like he’s just failed some sort of preliminary test that was supposed to be intentionally easy.

He flops back on the couch and stares up at the ceiling. With a thoughtful hum, he adds, “I don’t think I have much of anything, actually.”

“Why not?”

He closes his eyes and tries to shrug, but his shoulders don’t move much beyond a slight muscle twitch that is actually quite painful. He winces.

“Um,” he thinks aloud, “grocery shopping, either too difficult or just not taken care of because I’m busy training, because I can’t fall behind. Probably the later. Not sure.”

He can’t fall behind. Being a shinobi isn’t just his chosen career, doesn’t just run in the family, isn’t just his way of life. He’s lived all this before, and the end game went to hell in a hand-basket, because for all that he’d trained his ass off as a child, the older, adult Kakashi had let his skills rust in the time of peace. Stupidly, he’d settled with his level and had ceased looking for higher challenges, stopped trying to improve out of the mistaken assumption he was already good enough to take on whatever threats might come at him, a jounin of Konohagakure. Or that, wherever he did fail, he would have teammates there to cover his back for him. That’s why he’d been so caught of guard. That’s why he’d lost so much when he hadn’t expected to even be capable of losing anything else in the face of what had all already been taken from him.

Not this time. This time, he’s ahead of the curve, and he’ll stay ahead. He refuses to allow himself to fall behind a second time.

There’s a huff, and Orochimaru disappears back into the kitchen. At the foot of the couch, Pakkun sniffs contemptuously.

“He smells,” the pug mutters under his breath.

Kakashi lets his leg slide off the cushion, foot coming down on top of the ninken’s head. There’s a yelp, and Pakkun jerks upright to glare balefully at him. Kakashi gives him a cheery smile.

“What was that for?” Pakkun hisses.

“Don’t remember you being this rude,” Kakashi yawns, curling in on one of the admittedly threadbare throw pillows. He presses his face into the rough fabric, inhaling a musky scent born of dust. “He smells fine.”

“He smells like reptile .”

“And I smell like dog,” Kakashi mumbles, remembering Naruto’s wrinkled nose making the whisker marks curl inward as his entire face scrunched up. His gut clenches, his throat feels oddly slick, slimy. His eyes sting. Kakashi sniffs.

Pakkun goes silent. The couch cushions dips in slightly as the pug hops up next to him. A paw places itself on Kakashi’s leg as Pakkun stretches out his neck and sniffs at him.

“You smell sad ,” the ninken corrects, sotto voce.

Kakashi rolls on to his back, gazing down at the dog through half-lidded eyes. He fights off a yawn that cracks at his jaw, and feels his ears twitch at the soft clinking sounds coming from the kitchen as Orochimaru works the teapot in silence.

He yanks up an arm and sets it over his eyes. His head still pounds horribly, and everything in him feels too exhausted to work properly, yet was still working despite all of this. Kakashi feels stretched out, and over-used, and old , and—

“Yeah,” he breaths. He’s sad. Who wouldn’t be?

Even inside his head it sounds like an excuse.

Chapter Text

There is just something about this, sitting on the couch and watching such a notorious, duplicitous individual as Orochimaru putter around the small kitchen of a seven year old chunin’s shoddy apartment, fixing tea and putting together sandwiches composed of stale bread and the absolute dredges of a nearly out of date peanut butter jar, that is inherently wrong.

Or, maybe not wrong, just… incredibly jarring. Watching the snake sannin himself being downright domestic throws a great big wrench into the cogs of his image in the eyes of literally everyone else in the entire world (except, perhaps, the other sannin and his sensei). It’s just, odd, to watch a man that Kakashi has personally seen tear out the throats of grown, infamous ninja with his tongue, hum near silently to himself as he measures out the correct amount of loose leaf tea into a strainer. Where he’d found the leaf tin, Kakashi has absolutely no idea. He’d been pretty sure the kid-him of the past hadn’t the mind to buy anything other than tea bags or the instant stuff.  

Pakkun still sits, hunched, on his legs, as if he thinks it’s his sworn duty to make sure Kakashi doesn’t leave the confines of the couch cushions. Maybe it is, too. Hadn’t he’d promised Minato-sensei that he’d keep an eye on Kakashi while he was sick? And then Kakashi wanders off to a cemetery all on his lonesome, wearing nothing but shorts and a t-shirt, and brings back one of the villages most controversial and widely feared warriors like he's just another stray puppy.

Maybe Pakkun has the right to be concerned. Kakashi certainly is. Why is Orochimaru in his apartment, again?

He eyes the man’s back through the doorless entry to the kitchen, stares at the yards of inky black hair that tumbles over his shoulders and sways when the man moves, and then purposefully closes his eyes and plops back down on the cushions. He heaves out a great big sigh that makes his throat, shredded as it is, sting viciously, and ponders his own behavior.

Orochimaru and Kakashi are alike, in the way that Kakashi and Naruto— not Sasuke, Kakashi has made a lot of mistakes and that boy, maybe his entire team, was one of them—are alike. They’re three peas in a pod, them, and Kakashi really has no idea why he’s never seen the parallels before now.

There had just been something, about the line of Orochimaru’s shoulders, the angle of his head, the direction of his avoiding gaze, and the firm declination of even gracing Danzōu with a verbal response in that graveyard, that had just struck Kakashi as so achingly familiar. He’s seen that very pose in the mirror. He’s seen it in his students, not just Naruto, but all three of them at one point or another.

This person is like me, a small voice in the back of his head, that sounded so much like a mashup of Naruto and his own younger self, had spoken with an odd sort of wonder.

Maybe that’s why, Kakashi thinks.

He’s distracted by a commotion in the kitchen. There’s a surprised yelp and a crash of pots that is definitely not Orochimaru, and a short, curt hmph that is.

Kakashi sits up and peers over the back of the couch once more, to watch as his blonde-haired sensei staggers bodily out of the kitchen entry, stumbling over to him with a crazed, startled look on his face, and blue eyes that keep darting to the kitchen and back.

Kakashi shares a glance with a very unimpressed looking Pakkun, and wrestles himself up to his knees as Minato practically throws himself over to grab the back of the couch like it’s a lifeline. Their eyes meet, and they stare at one another for a few long moments, before the older ninja himself breaks the gaze and runs an aggrieved hand through his hair.

“Kakashi,” Minato begins in a low voice. It sounds kind of stressed, to Kakashi’s ears, despite how Minato-sensei is clearly attempting to keep it calm and level. “Why is Orochimaru in your apartment?”

Kakashi eyes him warily. “He’s making lunch.”

A strange look crosses Minato’s face, something that looks like it’s trying to be a patient smile, but is too busy fighting against a panicked grimace to look even a little bit natural.

Why is he making lunch, in your apartment?”

The twelve year old stares at his sensei for a long moment, eyes narrowed, and then nods slowly, realizing, ah. Minato was really asking why Orochimaru seemed to feel like he can come to Kakashi’s apartment in the first place.

“He’s friend-shaped,” Kakashi tells his teacher, expression blank, and Minato chokes on air.

Pakkun rolls his eyes, and hops up to perch on the back of the couch. In times such as this, Kakashi finds himself really appreciating the pug’s easy-going, no-nonsense nature. It’s a gift from the kami themselves.

“Little Boss,” The pug starts, and Kakashi has to work really hard to hide the flinch that tries to wrack his body at the nickname, “went on a quick field trip while I was busy running a bath for him. He was gone for about half an hour.”

And ?” Minato looks about ten seconds away from tearing out his hair.

“Snake-boy over there-“ Pakkun nods toward the kitchen, and then bites back a yelp when Kakashi instinctively reaches out to box the small ninken over the ears.

“Wh-“ his sensei looks startled at the violence, but Kakashi is too busy giving his doggy partner a stern look full of narrow eyes and unfortunately pouting lips to see him.

Pakkun glowers back at him. After a few seconds, the dog huffs out an exasperated sigh and turning back to the befuddled Minato. “The esteemed Sannin of Snakes carried Kakashi here back after he reportedly fainted while standing, the idiot.”

“Hmm,” Kakashi hums ponderously, before relenting. Better, but still rude. His dogs of this time are so bereft of manners. His dad had spoiled them.

Minato’s eyes widen, and he starts casting suspicious glances over at the kitchen, which is strangely a lot more silent than it was before. The blonde leans in closer, so that his and Kakashi’s heads are right next to each other.

“Did anything happen?” Minato whispers worriedly.

Kakashi pulls back to give his sensei a long, wordless stare.

The blonde man looks so earnest. It tugs on something in his chest, even as Kakashi is feeling a cold sort of tingle at the edges of his lungs at the sudden realization he’s having.

“What?”

“I mean, did he,” Minato lowers his voice even further, edging in closer like he thinks this way Orochimaru wouldn’t hear him. Was… his sensei actually kind of an idiot? “Did he, do… something?”

“What are you talking about?” Kakashi looks at the man like he thinks he’s crazy, which… well? Aren’t they all?

A burst of breath escapes Minato, and the man hesitated for a second, before throwing himself over the back of the couch, to sit next to Kakashi. He reaches out to hook an arm around the boy and drags him down so that he’s practically in his lap.

“Sensei?!”

“He didn’t do anything to you, did he?” And now that he’s actually looking up at him, Kakashi can see the veritable storm clouds eclipsing Minato’s cerulean eyes, how they are narrow and sharp and keep glancing over at the kitchen like it’s the mouth of some nefarious monster's cave, and then back at Kakashi, to rove over the small Hatake’s body like he’s looking for any signs of mishandling.

Kakashi frowns. He places both hands on the man’s chest and pushes him away a little bit so he has room to breath.

“No,” he says shortly. “I was visi- I pushed myself too hard. I got dizzy and passed out, and Orochimaru-san was kind enough to take me home.”

Faintly, he can remember Orochimaru’s question of where his apartment was located, and silently wonders that, if the nin actually hadn’t known, then how had he gotten Kakashi home anyway?

A question for another day. Minato-sensei is still leering suspiciously at the quiet kitchen.

Kakashi pauses for a moment, unsure. After a moment, though, he figures to hell with it. Best to just treat Minato like another Pakkun.

He reaches out and lightly swats Minato’s shoulder. The man startles, again—he startles very easily, doesn’t he, Kakashi will have to work on that—and turns to give the boy a questioning look.

“You,” Kakashi says quietly, “believe the villagers?”

Minato blinks at him. “Sorry?”

“...Have you ever actually spoken to him?”

“Of course I have! Kakashi, I’ve been on the other side of the debate table in strategy meetings against him more times than I can cou-“

“Okay,” says Kakashi, impatient, “but have you ever actually talked to him? Outside of… work?”

Minato stares at him.

Huh, Kakashi thinks, and he’s not liking the ideas his brain is suggesting to him at all.

“How did you get inside?” He asks, mind running wild with all the new revelations he’s reading in the undertones of the latest events of his life. “I... didn’t see you come in the door.”

He pauses, and then casts a glance at Pakkun. The pug stares at him, before giving a huff and a short shake of his head. So Minato hadn’t come in while Kakashi was too busy being unconscious to notice.

He really needs to figure out how to get around that. It’s starting to get a little ridiculous, and him fainting everywhere isn’t going to help his case one bit.

“I, uh,” Minato coughs, hand reaching up to rub at the back of his head. Sheepish. “I came in through the window.”

Kakashi stares. “The window?”

“The one in the, ah, the kitchen…”

From the sound of it, his teacher had launched himself up two stories and broke into Kakashi’s apartment instead of, say, using the front door like a normal person would have, and had promptly found Orochimaru the Snake Sannin humming and making tea there, instead of his youngest and brightest, and currently sickest, student like he’d no doubt been expecting.

Kakashi can understand why Minato was so startled, but… that didn’t explain why Minato was being so Ignorant Villager Type 3 on them right now.

The silver-haired boy narrows his eyes, and Minato ducks his head under the gaze.

“Tomorrow,” a calm voice speaks from behind them, all velvet tones and lilting vowels, “someone is going to restock these cabinets.”

Minato jumps, arms tightening around Kakashi a bit too harshly, and he looks a breath away from screaming like a schoolgirl. Kakashi levels the blonde a look, before twisting around in his grip and looking up at Orochimaru, who stands there, cool as a cucumber, holding a plate of sandwiches in one hand and a cup of tea in the other. He gazes down at them with an expression that gives nothing away about what’s going on inside his head, and raises an eyebrow at the intense stare Minato is subjecting him to.

“I swear I saw cobwebs in one when I opened it,” he continues, like he hadn’t just scared the bajeebus out of Kakashi’s high-strung sensei.

After a moment of silence—which Orochimaru takes advantage of to make his way around the couch, like a blessedly normal person, unlike Minato, and set the plate on the coffee table—Kakashi struggles his way free of the death trap that is Minato-sensei’s arms, and perches instead on the edge of the next cushion over.

Orochimaru hands him the cup of tea. Kakashi accepts it wordlessly, bringing it close to his chest after his hands register how warm the ceramic is against his chilled skin. He glances down into its jewel-tone depths, and gets a whiff of cinnamon with a faint hint of citrus. Definitely not something the young Kakashi of before would have in his too-sparse cupboards. Kakashi wonders why Orochimaru carries a tin of such high-grade tea around with him, and carefully takes a sip.

He swishes it around in his mouth for a bit, ignoring the staring contest the two older men had going on right over his head, and can’t help the widening of his eyes.

Oh, Kakashi hums, and takes another, bigger sip. This tea is fantastic.

That’s it, he decides. Orochimaru stays.


Minato wrings the hem of his coat in his fists. It causes his knuckles to bleach white, and when he realizes this he attempts to loosen the grip he has on the cloth, and when that doesn’t work he draws his attention in to focus on his breathing.

In, and out. Slowly. In, and out. Two, four, eight, sixteen, thirty-two, sixty-four…

He opens his eyes after a few moments, pressing out a deep exhale, and finds that his gaze is still locked on the nin who sits across the coffee table from him. One leg is crossed over the other, spine leaning into the back of the wooden chair he’d dragged in from the small kitchen table, a cup of tea with a faint and subtle scent set in pale, artist hands.

Orochimaru brings the mug to his lips and draws in a mouthful, eyes locked on Minato’s, one eyebrow still raised.

Something in Minato’s chest tightens. The Sannin looks smug, somehow, and it’s playing on his nerves.

He bounces his leg a few times, up and down, before giving up and turning to his student, who lately is causing Minato a lot more stress than he feels he rightly deserves. Kakashi’s entire focus seems to be locked on his cup of tea, as it has been for the good few minutes since it had been handed to him. He sips at it occasionally with obvious relish, and gray eyes study the orange-maroon surface of the water with great interest.

Minato cut his gaze back to Orochimaru, who just smiles pleasantly at him, as if he for all the world belongs there, in that chair, in this apartment, and it i Minato who was the interloper.

“So,” He begins. And stalls. What… exactly is he suppose to say, here?

Orochimaru takes another drink, and smiles that smile again, teeth sharper than they have any right to be in the mouth of a human. “Indeed.”

After a few seconds tick by, in which the Snake Sannin remains unforgivably unruffled, whereas Minato is still fishing for words in a manmade pond bereft of any apparent actual life, the nin leans forward to peer unerringly at the still-silent chunin sitting next to him.

He clears his throat with a polite air, and smiles again when Kakashi’s gaze snaps to his. “It is good that you like the tea. However,” he reaches out and slides the plate of sandwiches across the table with a single finger, “I believe that some food will do you better, right now.”

Kakashi blinks at him, and brings a hand to his sternum when his stomach rumbles on cue. He looks startled. It makes Minato feel uneasy, because Kakashi isn’t ever one to let emotions show so blatantly on his face.

His student gives another quiet hum, that doesn’t sound quite like an agreement or not, and reaches forward to pick up one of the sandwiches. He then sits back against the couch cushions, tea mug cradles against his chest with one hand, and nibbles sparingly on the wedge. His eyes are staring at something in the middle of the distance, as if he’s already forgotten they are there.

Minato thinks back to that morning, when he’d nearly burned down the building to make soup that he already knew he hadn’t the ability to put together, and cringes internally. Has Kakashi eaten at all, since before Minato had found him lying prone on his bathroom floor two days ago?

Minato feels like the worst sensei on the face of the planet, that all it had taken was an eerily calm smile from Orochimaru to get Kakashi to intake the nutrition he so obviously needs.

You’ve never even spoken to him outside of duty, a voice says inside his head. It sounds both disappointed, incredulous, and sort of like Kakashi.

Something in Minato’s heart sinks.

He clears his throat, and sits up to now his head down in a show of respect.

“Thank you,” He says, and is faintly surprised at himself when it comes out completely sincere.

“For bringing him home,” he adds on, straightening up to find another shock, when he catches the stunned flash that gleams across slightly widened gold eyes. Orochimaru’s face quickly returns to its usual neutral expression, leaving Minato to wonder if he’d actually seen what he’d seen, but deep inside he knows that it had been there.

“I should have been here to take care of him,” he says, quietly, to himself, and feels like shit all over again. He isn’t just Kakashi’s sensei, he is his guardian. For all that Kakashi is, technically, of legal age due to his military rank, he’s still just a kid. Still just seven years old. And Minato had left him with only a ninken for company for hours, while suffering the throes of an illness that really and truly begs the attention of a doctor.

His elbows find purchase on his knees, and Minato leans his face heavily into his hands, palms digging into the sockets of his eyes. He feels so exhausted, all of a sudden. He wishes Kushina were here. She would know exactly what to do.

“You’re quite welcome,” a level voice returns at last, nearly as quietly as Minato’s last comment.

He glances up to meet that gold gaze, and finds himself sighing.

He doesn’t trust Orochimaru. For all that he’s Jiraiya’s precious teammate, Minato of all people knows just how conflicted Orochimaru’s very existence makes his sensei. They’d grown up together as children, and as adults they’d grown apart. Jiraiya knows Orochimaru, but it’s been such a long time since they’d even seen one another, that Minato thinks his sensei’s own knowledge of the man may just be slightly out of date.

After all, Orochimaru has had plenty of time to himself. First, it had been Tsunade, and then Jiraiya. Or maybe Jiraiya has been first, and this was just the second time. In any case, they both had left, and Minato still finds it strangely funny how Orochimaru is still the only one of the legendary sannin to actually stay in the village, despite everything. No matter what, Orochimaru has had their backs, not only in the war but outside of it, just like any loyal ninja should.

Minato thinks that this should be reason enough to, perhaps not trust Orochimaru, but trust that he wouldn’t turn on them in the middle of a mission. He’d proven himself, time and time again, even when he shouldn’t have had too.

And still, Minato is suspicious of Orochimaru, and sometimes he hates himself for it. He hates that Jiraiya has instilled a sense of constant vigilance where his errant teammate is concerned. Minato can’t help but keep an eye out for the Snake Sannin. Watch him from afar. Make notes of what he’s been doing. Pick him out of a crowd, which isn’t exactly difficult as the crowd itself avoids his very presence without even meaning to, and stare.

Minato looks to his side, at his student, who is still completely transfixed by the mug he cradled to his chest. There’s barely three of the tiniest bites he’d ever seen taken out of the sandwich in the boy’s hand. He remembers Kakashi, sitting at the kitchen table, with gray eyes darker than Minato had ever seen them, staring almost sightlessly at the calendar stuck on the fridge with the magnet Rin had asked Minato to pass along because she’d been too shy to gift it herself.

‘You believe the villagers?’

Kakashi sounded so accusing when he’d asked that. There had been this look on his face that spoke of quiet disbelief. Like he's disappointed that his own sensei is just another of the mindless masses who glare at what they can't understand, or don't want to understand.

Except, Minato does understand it. Even if he wishes that there was nothing to understand. Because it isn’t fair, and Minato hates watching his student walk through the village like he isn’t a part of it.

He looks up, and finds Orochimaru enjoying his tea and looking as if he hadn’t a care in the entire world. But there’s something in the line of his shoulders, the too-relaxed way he holds himself up in that wooden chair, which belies that.

Minato lets go of his coat, smooths out the wrinkles and creases he’d caused, and sits back against the couch.

He casts Orochimaru a sunny smile, as if the three of them had planned to take tea together all along.

“I’m sorry,” he says, and means it. “I don’t believe we’ve had the pleasure of meeting outside of the war room or battlefield before.”

Orochimaru’s eyes snap up to meet his.

“...No,” the man replies curiously. “I don’t believe we have.”

Minato beams. “Well, I know we already knows each other’s names, but that’s no reason to let introductions slide in polite company.”

He leans forward and reaches a hand out across the coffee table. “I’m Namikaze Minato, Kakashi’s sensei. I’m glad to finally meet you.”

Orochimaru regards his offered hand with an unblinking gaze, and the quiet of the apartment stretches on for longer than comfortable. The muscles in Minato’s arm begin to tire as the seconds tick by, but he refuses to lower it.

After a moment, Orochimaru glances up to meet his eyes, and smiles that pleasant, close-lipped smile once again. He reaches out to clasp Minato’s hand, and the two of them them shake over the plate of sandwiches that sits between them.

“Orochimaru,” the nin intones. Ebony hair slides off a shoulder as he leans forward. “I’m delighted to make your acquaintance.”

Minato swears he can hear his sensei hollering across the elemental nations at him.

Beside him, Kakashi brings his mug up and sips at the tea straight through his mask.

Chapter Text

Despite what he’d said to Minato-sensei, Kakashi doesn’t have a clue what Orochimaru is doing in his apartment.

The man isn’t there for long, of course, stating some excuse for leaving soon after the odd, almost ceremonial-like handshake he and Minato-sensei had shared over Kakashi’s coffee table—what had that been about, anyway? Kakashi hadn’t really been paying attention at the time, too distracted by the godlike aroma wafting up from his humble, mortal, ceramic mug. He’s pretty sure something had gone down. He just isn’t sure what.

He doesn’t have a lot of time to ponder it, however, seeing as Pakkun sits on him practically the very second that Orochimaru takes his leave—through the front door, take notes, Minato-sensei—and curls his lip upward in the facsimile of a snarl.

His voice doesn’t have a hint of a growl, though, so Kakashi knows he’s all bark and no bite.

“If I go now to refill the tub, you’ll stay put this time.” The pug grumbles. “Right?"

Kakashi stares at him, empty tea mug still clutched to his sternum. It still smells like cinnamon and citrus, and Kakashi’s going to cling to it until someone pries it out of his cold, dead hands.

“Yeah,” he eventually sighs out, when Pakkun whuffs quietly for a response. “No more graveyard excursions,” Kakashi promises.

Minato gives a little jolt from where he’s been sitting next to them on the couch, staring blankly at the empty kitchen chair Orochimaru had left in the sitting room. The blond turns his head to cast a curious glance over Kakashi’s curled form. There’s an unreadable look in his eyes as he glances once toward the kitchen and then back at Kakashi, before meeting Pakkun’s gaze. Something passes between the ninken and the ninja, over Kakashi’s head, and Kakashi shifts beneath their gazes, not really liking that there’s an entire conversation going on in the room that he isn’t privy to. It’s his apartment, dammit.

He gives a yawn, and tips over onto his side to bury his face into the couch pillows, jostling Pakkun off his lap. The pug hops away from him, finding new purchase on the next cushion over.

“I’ll stay,” he mumbles into the couch. Maybe it sounds a little belligerent, maybe it doesn’t. He’s not admitting to anything.

There’s a shift of fabric as Minato stands up from the couch.

“I can get the bath going, if you’re really that worried, Pakkun,” the jounin-sensei says quietly.

“It looks like he’s gonna pass out again,” Pakkun says. “He probably won’t wander off….”

“I’m sensing a ‘but’?”

Pakkun gives a sigh, and noses the back of Kakashi’s head, pushing around a few of the wilder strands of silvery hair. “He’s hasn’t been particularly present this entire time, if you know what I mean. Sure, the kid says he won’t leave, but I’m not too convinced that he’s got the reigns of it right now.”

“What do you mean?” Minato-sensei sounds confused.

“When he woke up after Orochimaru brought him back, I practically had to interrogate him about why the guy was here before he actually seemed to remember what happened, or the fact that he’d left the apartment in the first place.”

There’s a moment of silence while the two contemplate this information, and Kakashi squeezes his eyes shut so tightly that spots dance before his vision. He stretches his arms out in front of himself, stomach dragging against the cushion, until something in his back pops. His entire body aches like he’d just finished a particularly grueling training regime, except it had been for two days straight, of all the toughest exercises and with no sleep or rests. Kakashi is so done feeling under the weather. Time travel, death hallucination, whatever this is or not, he’d like to feel like a normal living human being again, please. He hadn’t even been that old before this started. Why did he feel like an old man? This body hasn’t even started puberty yet, for crying out loud!

Kakashi goes still.

A whine escapes his mouth, smothered into the pillow that his face is currently paying respects to. It smells like dust. He fights the urge to sneeze.

A hand comes to rest in his hair, giving it a gentle, soothing ruffle, fingers threading through the strands. Kakashi soaks in the comfort it brings like a dying man who won’t see such luxuries again in life. Because he’s going to die. He knows it.

Above him, Minato sighs. “I think I’ll stay here for the night. I can take the couch. I just… I don’t want to leave him alone, when he’s like this.”

He steps away from the couch, and quietly says, “I’ll go draw up that bath for you, Pakkun.”

Kakashi listens to the soft footsteps leading him away from the room, down the hall to the bathroom that the man had found him collapsed in not too long ago—but, apparently it had been days since then?

The steps fade out. Kakashi then pops his head up from the pillow and finds himself staring at a silent Pakkun.

Pakkun regards him seriously. “How are you feeling?”

That’s a tone of voice that Kakashi recognizes. He’s heard it from the mouths of many a medic-nin, and he knows down to his gut that if he doesn’t answer promptly and with complete honesty, his life may as well be forfeit for all the good that his future might hold.

“Terrible,” he replies, and oops. Maybe a little too cheerfully, but oh well. “My head feels like it’s full of rocks that are all smashing into each other at shunshin speeds, and I’m pretty sure my body is on fire, but when I look down at it, it’s fine?”

Pakkun steps closer, pressing his nose right next to Kakashi’s temple, and gives a suspicious sniff. “Any sort of cold symptoms? Like sore throat? Sniffles?”

The man-become-boy gives Pakkun the deadest stare that he can manage, which, considering the circumstances, is more alike to a corpse than Pakkun is apparently comfortable with.

There’s a worried pinch between the dog’s brows when he nudges Kakashi’s cheek insistently. “Well?”

“No,” Kakashi huffs, and pushes the pug away from his face perhaps a little too roughly, not that he means to. “Sometimes I feel too tired to move, even though I just slept, and….” Kakashi thinks about his date with the toilet bowl when he first woke up, and shudders.

“And?”

“Stomach,” Kakashi grunts. “Not good.”

“Do you need me to grab the trash bin?” Pakkun asks in alarm.

“No,” at least, Kakashi doesn’t think so. Honestly, if he pukes now he’d feel a little guilty. Orochimaru didn’t have to make him those sandwiches, but he had, and it was strangely very nice of him to do so. Kakashi doesn’t want to throw that back in his face.

Really, it’d be rude. What if Orochimaru never gives him that amazing tea from heaven again, because Kakashi was rude to him? Kakashi thinks he might just give up on life entirely. If he can’t have that tea again, what's even the point?

“Are you sure?”

“Yes,” Kakashi will make damn sure he doesn’t meet up with the toilet again anytime soon.

The two of them sit there for a while in silence. Kakashi feels his head dip forward a few times, and can’t quite keep his eyes open. He’s pretty certain he doesn’t actually fall unconscious, but… no, he isn’t certain, actually. He might have dozed off a few times for all he knows. The sitting room doesn’t have any windows, and he’s not in the right spot to see into the kitchen from the couch. He blinks once, and opens his eyes after, feeling groggy and terribly exhausted and so, so tired. Kakashi struggles away from the pillow he’s nearly become one with, pressing his stiff back into the couch cushions and releasing a pent up sigh that tastes like irritation. He runs his tongue over his teeth in annoyance, and cringes. They feel like they’re covered in moss.

Minato peeks in on them from the hallway. “Tub’s ready for you,” He says when he notices Kakashi sitting up.

The boy blinks, and then edges himself off the couch and onto wobbly feet. Now that he’s thinking about it, he really could use a good wash. He kind of reeks. Orochimaru, with his sensitive snake senses, the poor man must’ve been suffering the entire time he was in Kakashi’s apartment.

Kakashi narrows his eyes on the floorboards in front of his socked feet—since when had he put socks on? Last he’d known, he’d been barefoot— and resolutely takes a step forward. Minato appears at his side to help him to the bathroom, because apparently Kakashi is crippled and can’t walk himself despite obviously doing it right before the blonde’s eyes not two seconds ago.

In any case, Kakashi finds himself beside the tub, wrestling with his shirt as he attempts to shuck off his clothing, and tries not to actually dive headfirst into the bathtub even though he kind of really wants to. It looks so inviting. It’s steaming. It smells clean. It feels like heat and he hasn’t even touched it yet.

The steam that curls up from the water clues Kakashi into the fact that, apparently, he is absolutely freezing. Despite that, not a moment ago, his body had felt like it was slowly and painfully burning into cinders. But, no. Now he is cold. Go figure.

He climbs in, and resolutely decides not to think about anything at all.

 

There’s a knock at the door about an hour and a half later, after Kakashi sinks under the welcoming depths of the water, and for a second his heart speeds up in panic and he’s taken back to the episode he’d experienced when he first woke up, how his body had tried to turn inside out and the door had talked—

No. “Kakashi?” It’s Minato-sensei. Not the door. Doors don’t talk.

Kakashi closes his eyes and pretends that they don’t sting just a little. Nobody has to know.

“Kakashi?”

“Mmf?”

“Are you alright? It’s been a while?”

Kakashi draws in a deep breath, sinking down in the tub. He soaks in the quickly escaping vestiges of heat still remaining in the lukewarm bath water, and sighs it back out, counting the second it takes until his lungs are empty again. He waits a moment, and draws in another breath that takes half as long.

“Kakashi?”

“I’m fine,” he calls.

“Well,” Minato begins, sounding like he’s worried but trying not to let it become too obvious, “are you all washed up? I think it’s about time you get out. You should probably get something to eat before you fall asleep again.”

“I just ate,” Kakashi states in confusion, dragging himself up to sit on the edge of the tub.

“That was a few hours ago,” his teacher tell him through the very inanimate door. “It’s about dinner time. Do you need any help?”

“I got it,” Kakashi says, a little too quickly and a little too sharply. He draws in another breath and presses it out as slowly as his lungs can stand. He feels lightheaded afterwards, but it eases something in the tight, complicated knots that plague his muscles.

Outside the bathroom, Minato hesitates, then wonders, “Are you sure?”

Kakashi isn’t. He doesn’t bother answering, though. He carefully pulls his legs up and over, setting wet, pruned feet on the bath rug. He hears Minato heave out a sigh, and listens to the man dither around at the door for a few more minutes.

“He’s back,” his teacher eventually says to him, when Kakashi’s finished toweling off and is attempting the arduous process of dressing himself in the sleepwear Minato-sensei laid out for him on the small sink counter. He’s having a little trouble finding the left armhole of the shirt, and feels increasingly pathetic for it. “He’s making dinner. He’s almost done.”

“... Who?” Kakashi asks, a little suspiciously, even though he already has a good idea of the answer.

“Orochimaru,” Minato says, helplessly bewildered but trying to hide it.

Kakashi stops wrestling with the shirt, and finds himself staring at his reflection in the squat little mirror that hangs above the sink. He looks… tiny, is a good word for it as any. Are seven-year-olds suppose to be this small? His bangs are a tangled mess over his eyes, and are brushed toward the left a bit, and there’s a gauntness to his face that Kakashi doesn’t remember there being. His eyes look sort of glazed, and both of them are gray. He traces a line down over the left one, and then pets down the damp, plastered bangs to cover it. The sight of it makes him uneasy.

“What’s he making?” He eventually ventures, turning back to give his clothing an annoyed glare.

“Miso soup,” his teacher tells him promptly, like he’s been waiting for Kakashi to speak. “You don’t need help?”

Kakashi puffs up his cheeks with another sigh that he tries his best to hold in. Some of it gets out anyway.

“No, I’ve got it,” he says, clenching the navy t-shirt in his hands. It’s creasing, making wrinkles, but he doesn’t care.

“Alright,” Minato doesn’t seem like he wants to leave, but his voice carries a tone of reluctant defeat. “I’ll be in the living room. Holler if you need anything.”

Kakashi needs too many things to count, right now, and more than half of them are so astronomically out of his reach that there’s this constant, rising pressure trying to climb up his throat, causing his heart to beat two times faster than it should and bringing his breaths up short. He hates it. But Minato-sensei won’t be able to do anything about it anyway, so Kakashi keeps silent.

 

By the time he actually makes it to the kitchen, Orochimaru is once again puttering around the counters like a particularly eerie ghost, and Minato-sensei is already setting out utensils next to soup bowls that Kakashi is vehemently certain he’s never owned in his life, in the past or now.

He trudges to a stop next to the table, noting that all four chairs are once again in their proper places, and stares at the unfamiliar dishes in silence. He feels Pakkun come up and lean against his leg without a word, pressing into him and providing a spot of warmth. Now that he’s out of the bath, Kakashi feels cold again, so he revels in anything he can get. It’s almost as if his very soul is iced over.

His confusion must show on his face, because Orochimaru is suddenly next to him, ladling soup from a pot into the bowls.

“I made a trip to the grocers,” the infamous nin comments idly.

“You did?”

Orochimaru flashes him a small smile that doesn’t show any teeth, that’s strangely soft-looking and seems out of place on the face that’s so prevalent for enemy in Kakashi’s memories. There’s absolutely nothing sinister about it, and even as Kakashi finds himself searching for an ulterior motive out of habit, there’s isn’t any there. It’s oddly satisfying, and Kakashi isn't able to figure out why.

He can’t help but smile back, even if it is just a slight uptick of the edges of his mouth. Kakashi can’t really muster the energy for anything more.

“I did,” Orochimaru confirms, placing the pot in the center of the table now that all four bowls are filled.

“Why?”

The sannin arches a brow at him, pulling out a chair and directing Kakashi to sit in it, before settling himself into the seat perpendicular.

“Your cupboards were offensively bare,” the man drawls.

“Offensively?”

Orochimaru waves a hand at Minato, who’s just standing there at the counter, clutching a set of silverware to his chest and staring dumbly around the room now that he has no chore to busy himself with. The blond blanches, and scrambles to sit in the chair directly across from Kakashi.

“Well,” Orochimaru says, “I was offended.” He smiles again, and this time it has a tiny flash of teeth, which screams danger, but is belied by the gleam of a dry humor hidden in golden eyes.

There’s a scritch of nails against tile, and Pakkun hops up into the only chair left, to Kakashi’s right. Orochimaru passes the ninken a smaller soup bowl full of water, and the pug gives the Snake Sannin a grin that’s in stark contrast to the suspicion Pakkun was treating the man with last Kakashi knew.

He once again senses that he’s missing something.

Kakashi feels like a broken record, repeating himself, but, “Why?”

Orochimaru actually sighs. “I really do need to spell it out for you, don’t I?”

“Spell?” Kakashi stares at him. “What?”

He’s definitely missing something, maybe a lot of somethings, because he has no clue what Orochimaru is getting at here.

Minato suddenly relaxes in his chair, very abruptly, which catches Kakashi’s attention, because, what? The blonde smiles across the table at him, a fond little grin that has an edge of amusement in it, and he says, “Orochimaru-san’s a staunch supporter of healthy eating. He took one look at the state of your kitchens and took insult.”

Kakashi narrows his eyes at his sensei. Yes, he realizes when he sees Minato’s shoulders trembling ever so slightly. The man is laughing.

“It comes with being teammates with a Senju medic,” Orochimaru comments idly. Kakashi lets his gaze slide over to his face, just in time to catch the odd look that slides across it and then disappears. It looks a bit like pain and recurring disappointment, the man-turned-boy thinks quietly.

Orochimaru picks up his soup spoon, holds it between his hands, and mutters an ‘itadakimasu' that is quickly followed by the rest of them.

Kakashi’s thoughts turn to Obito, his Obito, from the future, and… he thinks he can kind of understand, just a little bit.

He tucks into the miso without another word, and thereafter finds himself unable to speak again anyway, because kamisama preserve his soul the food is so amazing his mouth is watering for more even before he swallows the first bite. Kakashi sits stock still in his chair, eyes darting from the bowl in front of him to the spoon in his hand, before he ducks his head down and shovels another spoonful into his mouth.

Minato snorts quietly from behind his hand, and then tucks into his own meal. Kakashi watches vindictively as his sensei’s blue eyes widen in shock. Pakkun rolls his eyes at the both of them, grumbling nonsensical mutterings to himself as he laps at the miso in his dish.

Orochimaru isn’t looking at any of them, but that odd little smile is back on his face and has a smug edge to it’s curve.

They eat in silence for a good while. Kakashi spends the time practically inhaling his miso and taking small, savoring sips of the tea that Minato-sensei had poured when they’d sat down. It’s the same tea he had hours ago, and Kakashi kicks his legs (they can’t reach the floor?), existing blissfully for just a moment, surrounded by delicious smells brought down from heaven itself via Orochimaru.

Maybe he’d been mistaken, when he’d first arrived here. Maybe this isn’t hell, or purgatory. Maybe he was being rewarded for the small good that he had accomplished in his life.

Orochimaru isn’t exactly the first person Kakashi would have considered for a conduit of the gods’ blessings, but as he holds a warm mug of tea to his chest, he thinks that he might come to see the light.

If this is the reward for the small good Kakashi has done in his past life, then what would the reward be for a higher level of good? Like, Naruto-good?

Kakashi is resolved. He will try his best to emulate his sunny student’s morals from now on. It’s obvious worth it in the end.

(He hopes Naruto is happy, wherever he ended up after… well, after.)

He’s starting to finally understand why Anko had revered Orochimaru so much as a child, and still had admired him (even as she bitterly hurt and raged) as an adult.

Eventually, Kakashi’s peace comes to an end, when Minato sets down his eating utensils and sets his elbows against the edge of the table top, to clasp his hands in front of his face and stare at Kakashi over the table with an unusually serious expression.

Kakashi slows the rapid motion of his spoon from bowl to mouth, until it comes to hover uncertainty between the two destinations. A tendril of unease curls in his stomach, just beneath his diaphragm. It feels hot, and sour, and Kakashi lets his spoon fall back into his bowl with a quiet little clatter.

Orochimaru raises an eyebrow at him again. “Eat too fast?” He asks, and sounds entirely unsympathetic and unsurprised in equal measure.

Angels from the gods can be cruel as they can be kind, it seems.

Kakashi slowly shakes his head, regarding his stern-looking teacher with a level of wariness. He reaches out to grab his cup of tea and brings it close to his sternum to draw comfort from it’s warmth.

“When you left training that day,” Minato begins quietly, and the uneasy knot in Kakashi’s stomach spasms, “did you feel sick then?”

Kakashi lifts his mug to hide his mouth, biting his lip in an uncharacteristic show of nerves. He decides not to answer. He doesn’t even have an answer. Was he sick, at this time, in the past? Or was this illness a byproduct of—it still sounds absolutely crazy but Kakashi is running out of explanations here that make as much sense—traveling back? In any case, it’s been so long since Kakashi was actually seven that even if he thinks about it really hard, there’s absolutely no chance of him divining the thought process and decision making of his younger self on a specific day that Kakashi has not actually lived in decades.

Minato seems to take this as an affirmative. A crease appears between his brows. “So you did. Why didn’t you tell me?”

Kakashi turns slowly back to face his teacher, mulling over the tone in which the question was posed. It sounds hurt. He matches his gaze with Minato-sensei’s, and sees the ocean in them, roiling with feelings and thoughts Kakashi can’t possibly discern or name. But, yeah, his teacher sounds upset by this.

Kakashi sinks in his chair, switching his stare to an empty space on the table top. Nobody speaks for a moment, the four of them surrounded by a sort of silence that plays at half-comfortable, but is actually tense and focused underneath the underneath. Orochimaru keeps eating, steadily, and Pakkun seems to be paying absolutely no attention to the conversation going on over his head—but his ears are perked up. He’s listening. So is the sannin, judging by the gleam in gold irises that Kakashi catches out of the corner of his eye.

He reaches out to fish his spoon out of the dredges of miso. He cleans it off and sets it to the side of his plate.

He figures that the best option is to just tell the truth. “I don’t know.”

Minato doesn’t blink, but he sits back in his chair, with an agonizing sort of slowness that tells Kakashi he’s thinking miles a minute, that brilliant mind coming up with and discarding thousands of possibilities as to what the actual answers might be. He’s frowning.

“You don’t know?”

Kakashi doesn’t have enough energy for this conversation.

“No, I don’t. I don’t remember if I felt sick then or not, and I don’t know why I didn't tell you if I had. Or did I tell you? I don’t know, and,” the boy breaks off abruptly, sucking in a harsh breath when he realizes he’s rambling a bit. But his lungs have been wrung dry, so he sucks in another one and tries to pretend he doesn’t feel the stinging at his eyes. He fails when he brings up and fist to rub at them harshly.

“I don’t know,” he finishes, softly, and this time nobody talks again until the plates have been cleared.

 

Minato hovers by the apartment door—there’s no other word for it. The man is almost like a bee in that nature, Orochimaru can practically hear the buzzing he makes with his palpable worry and anxiousness. The color yellow suites him, there’s no doubt about that.

“I have nothing scheduled for this week in the least,” he hears himself saying, repeating in fact, and has to once again wonder why is he doing this? He could be in his labs right now, making another scientific discovery that will only work for the betterment of the villager and everyone in it, but instead he’s chosen to, what? Babysit a sick Chunin who is far too tiny to deserve the fraudulent dangers of the rank, so that his bouncing, absolutely bewildering jounin-sensei could continue training the rest of his students without (as much) concern for the boy’s wellbeing?

“I-I know,” the Namikaze says, wringing his hands and glancing over Orochimaru’s shoulder to where he can just barely see the young Hatake heir curled up on that pitiful, threadbare monstrosity that dares call itself a couch. “I just… he’s so out of it. Compared to how he usually is, it’s… it’s very concerning, you know.”

Orochimaru doesn’t, actually, having not truly met the boy before today—and what an incredibly peculiar creature, that boy is turning out to be—but he does know enough tact to not mention that little fact. Despite anything Jiraiya or even Tsunade might tell anyone, Orochimaru isn’t completely absent from societal niceties.

He can practically feel his expression begin to shut down at the direction his thoughts have turned, so he quickly forces it into a neutral look, waving a disinterested hand as if to physically banish the stuttering mess Minato was quickly devolving into.

“It’s fine,” he says, “I understand how it might be upsetting, but….” Here, he gives a little pause, raising an eyebrow at the blonde, “you do have two other students who require your attention, don’t you? Students who are waiting for you at their training grounds as we speak?”

The jounin visibly, ostensibly deflates. He drops his shoulders and runs an aggrieved hand through tastefully mussed blonde locks. “I—no, you’re right, you’re right.” As if there was ever any doubt. “I’ll leave him in your hands. Please send Pakkun if there’s anything you need.”

“Of course,” Orochimaru allows. And then he closes the door firmly in the man’s face. Maybe it would give him the kick he needed to actually leave.

He turns around from the entry and appraises the small, little form that’s balled up on the— Orochimaru hesitates to actually call it a couch, it most definitely needs to be replaced, and why in the world is Hatake’s heir holed up in this hovel when he has a perfectly good clan compound to the east?— furniture , an equally threadbare and ragged throw pillow clutched tightly to a tiny chest. He’s small, and Orochimaru is having a rather difficult time paying attention to anything else, because it keeps smacking him in the face. Kakashi Hatake is tiny, almost like Orochimaru had been, once upon a time. There a thinness to him, a delicate tautness that makes it easy for any observer to trace out the very fine structure of his skeleton beneath skin. It’s only made more apparent by the dreadful illness that’s currently ravaging his body. In the early morning and frigid white light of the graveyard, he’d looked almost like a ghost, and Orochimaru had been quite ready to believe he was one before the boy had walked up and addressed the esteemed council member Shimura.

Orochimaru steps forward on silent feet, as if this were a mission and he were to ambush an enemy. He places the back of his hand against the boy’s forehead, and is once again rather impressed at the sheer heat that emanates from the Chunin’s skin. This is the type of fever that would make Tsunade foam at the mouth before barking strict orders to subordinates to get their asses moving they don't have all day

The boy should really be seen to a hospital.

Instead, Orochimaru climbs back to his feet and makes his way to the kitchen, pulling out a beaten tin of loose-leaf and setting it on the counter. He takes the pot to the sink to rinse it clean.

The boy seems to practically worship Orochimaru’s personal blend and, while flattering, the aroma would certainly wake him should nothing else, sick or not.

As he sets the water to boil, Orochimaru can’t help but wonder, again, what he’s doing.

The only thing he was certain about was that the answer lay in the boy.

Chapter Text

Kakashi wakes up smelling the very aroma of heaven itself, and the sensation is so absolutely unfamiliar that it startles him into complete alertness, which is a rather poor position to be in, considering how terrible Kakashi has been feeling lately.

He further escalates it by sitting up too fast and rolling entirely off the couch he’d apparently fallen asleep (again) on. He lands on the floor without a sound, mostly because the breath has been knocked out of him so spectacularly he can’t even wheeze.

Something wet and cold pressed against the slime right behind his ear, and Kakashi flinches away from it. He lifts his hands up toward the couch and waves them around blindling, hoping to land on the blanket he’d been covered with until just a few moments ago. Pakkun inches in and noses at his face again, snorting at him.

“That’s one way to wake up, pup.” The pug drawls, and Kakashi whines quietly at the epithet, turning his face into the foot of the couch so that he doesn’t have to look at the ninken anymore.

He finally succeeds in locating the blanket, and rolls himself a bit away from the couch in order to slowly tug it off the cushions to join him on the floor. Then, after a pause to catch his breath, Kakashi rolls back into place, wrapping the blanket around him as he goes.

He hears Pakkun sigh, the sound muffled by the material now wrapped around his ears. A paw sets itself against his shoulder, and gives a few halfhearted pushes before apparently giving up and leaving him alone.

Kakashi lies there for a while. He doesn’t know how long. He lies there and aches with a weary, bone-deep pain that feels a bit like longing, though he isn’t sure what for. Probably a lot of things. There are so many things he misses dearly, that he knows he’ll never get back. His dad, for one, but that’s always been true, and it’s always hurt no matter how Kakashi learned to think about it. Minato-sensei, his teammates, how things had used to be before everything tore itself away from him seemingly all at once, leaving nothing left for Kakashi but a single drop of sunshine that was far too bright for Kakashi’s broken, slack soul to bear.

But here they all were, again. Kakashi could feel them, swimming on the edges of his senses, fleeting like dust particles in a far off sunbeam. Always on the edge of his senses, liked they’d once been so long ago. There they are, alive again, like nothing’s wrong.

Naruto, though. Sakura, Sasuke. Yamato. Genma and Gai and Anko and-

They were gone. All of them. Everyone Kakashi has ever known or ever will know from age seven on upwards is gone , and Kakashi isn’t going to kid himself with the faintest hope that he’s ever going to be able to get them back. Sure, they might still be alive; sure, most of them might still yet be born; sure , Kakashi has probably the best chance in all the universe of stopping the deaths of so many of his loved ones before they even happen, but .

But they won’t be Kakashi’s.

Kakashi is seven years old, stuck in a body he can barely remember how to operate, a complete stranger in a land that looks familiar but is utterly foreign in the way that only hindsight can allow a person. None of these people are the ones that he knew, and the new that he knew he’ll never reobtain.

He wriggles a bit, until he can bring his hands up to hover uncertainty before his own nose, barely enough room in the blanket burrito to move, and stares at the appendages. With a choked sound, and a voice that doesn’t even make it out of his throat, he mouths the words “itty bitty” to himself, and feels a strange sort of terror make merry chaos all across his nervous system.

Kakashi shakes against the hardwood floor. He pulls the blanket tighter around him, breathing coming in slow and steady. He can’t do anything but focus on the way it goes in and out, else he’d be hyperventilating and—well, why not? Passing out would be better than being awake to these horrible realizations.

A presence crouches beside him.  Kakashi tenses, and then relaxes beneath the blanket. His ears twitch.

After regarding him for a few long, silent moments, Orochimaru hums quietly from overhead. “You’ve been on the floor for quite a while now.”

Kakashi doesn’t move. He’s seven. Children fall asleep in odd places all the time. Shinobi children are even worse. For all the sannin knows, Kakashi fell off the couch only to go straight back to dozing.

A minute tremble wracks the form that still feels far too tiny to adequately contain all of himself. A large hand with long fingers places itself on his shoulder. It’s warm, and firm, and grounds him back in the reality Kakashi still isn’t sure he exists all the way in yet.

“There’s tea,” Orochimaru offers.

Kakashi lies there for a moment more, to gather whatever energy he has left, and then sits up. It’s a slow process, the blanket tumbling down from his shoulders inch by inch until he (or half of him at least, as sitting tends to go) is vertical. Before his mind can possibly think better of it, Kakashi is raising his hands up toward Orochimaru with a silent but obvious intent.

Kakashi feels like death is coming for him, but to his inward shock all the snake sannin does is raise his brows a bit, before he reaches forward and scoops Kakashi’s little seven year old body into his arms and stands up. It’s quite a ways up. The man is pretty tall. Or, Kakashi is just really short. 

With something rather like despair, Kakashi leans forward to lay his head down on the legendary nin’s shoulder. Long, silky black hair catches his eyes before he closes them, and the fingers of the hand he brings up to rest by his face get tangled in it. The other hand flops bonelessly against Orochimaru’s chest as he carries Kakashi to the kitchen.

He should feel belittled, irritated, ashamed, of being treated like a child when he has decades worth of wars and assassinations and failures inside of his head. Instead, he just feels warm. Kakashi can’t remember the last time he could feel the heat his body supposedly produced on its own. He’s always so cold now. His fingers feel like ice cubes. In contrast, Orochimaru is like a furnace. He burns against Kakashi wherever they’re touching. Kakashi is helpless but to snuggle in deeper and wish that the distance to his kitchen table was longer than just the few steps it takes Orochimaru to reach it.

He’s settled into a chair. Suddenly bereft of the pleasant and welcoming warmth, Kakashi feels dizzy. Moments later, the blanket is once against dropped around his shoulders, and tucked in by deft hands that almost immediately after place a steaming mug of the stuff heaven must be made out of on the table before him.

Kakashi sits there for a moment, confusedly content and upset all at once, eyes barely open. He stares through his lashes at the heat vapor drifting slowly up from the tea, and then blinks a few times in the hopes that his eyes will open a bit wider.

No such luck. Kakashi gives up and leans forward, carefully tugging the mug toward him and huddling over it like a moth who’s just found their first taste of flame. He inhales the spiced citrus scent and blows it back out in a slow, deep sigh.

After a few rounds of aromatherapy, Kakashi feels awake enough to attempt actual verbalization. He studies the steam curling up from The Tea, and breathes out a quiet, “Thank you.”

Orochimaru sits himself down in the chair opposite him, a mug of his own in his hands. Kakashi realizes that he’s never seen either of these cups before in his life. Where the hell did they come from.

“Of course.”

Kakashi won’t admit it in a court of law, but he thereafter zoned out almost completely. By the time the world comes back into focus, it hardly feels like any time has past at all, but his mug is entirely empty of the wonderful heat it had contained. He glances down to find his tea absent, consumed. As good as The Tea has proven to be, for all he knows it could have only been a few seconds that he was out that he downed it all, but Kakashi would like to think he has more restraint than that. He prefers to savour the good things in life, what with there being so few of them.

He glances up to find Orochimaru staring at him with the light of amusement gleaming in his eyes. He’s got one elbow on the table, propping up a hand to support his chin as he stares at Kakashi with that odd but quickly becoming familiar smile quirking at his lips ever so slightly.

Kakashi stares back at him, and then says, “You said you were going tomorrow.”

A single brow raises. “I’m sorry?”

“The shopping,” Kakashi says. “You said you were going tomorrow, but you went before dinner.”

Orochimaru shrugs, silk hair that Kakashi now knows for fact is actually softer sliding over his shoulder. “I needed some things for dinner. As I said, your cupboards were offensively bare.”

He gives Kakashi a neutral look, and then repeats himself, slower this time. “ Offensively.

And then he sips his tea. Kakashi watches him, and looks back down at his own, empty mug. He’s disappointed that its contents is gone. He wasn’t even aware enough to enjoy it. Kakashi , he inwardly berates himself, why are you like this .

“The silverware, though,” he recalls. “And the dishes. And these cups. They’re not mine?”

“They are now.”

Why ?” Kakashi asks, baffled.

Orochimaru sets his mug on the table. He looks Kakashi up and down, and something on the very edges of his eyes makes Kakashi sit up a little straighter and take notice.

The snake sannin is silent for a long, pensive moment, and Kakashi doesn’t dare speak, because he feels that if he does, something might break it. And he doesn’t want that. He isn’t sure why, but Kakashi wants Orochimaru to stay, and he wants it badly. He thinks that, if the nin were to leave now, Kakashi would go straight back to drowning again.

It’s a little bit of a shock to realize, but Orochimaru seems to be the miracle of dry land after the shipwreck that stranded him to this time in the first place.

Kakashi isn’t sure what to feel about that, but whatever it is, it’s nothing bad. It feels a sort of like relief.

Finally, Orochimaru regards him with a thoughtful eye, and shrugs, lifting his mug back into his hands.

“Because I wanted to,” he says, and leans back in his seat like that should be the end of it

Kakashi blinks. Well, he thinks to himself as he wordlessly holds out the mug to the snake sannin in a silent plead for seconds and actually gets a quiet laugh in return. That’s a bit more alright than he’d expected.




It’s when Kakashi’s onto his third cup of tea that there’s the knock on his door. It’s not too loud, just a fraction quieter than is average, and it’s four beats repeated one after the other. Polite to a fault. After that, there’s nothing, because why knock again when you’ve already announced yourself to the occupants within?

Kakashi sits in that kitchen chair, stiller than a statue, clutching at his tea with a white knuckled grip. He stares down into it, at the near centimeter depth of drink left. It’s gone a little lukewarm, but Kakashi has been pleased to find that the heat of the blend follows itself down into his core when he drinks it.

Orochimaru glances up from the scroll that was spread casually across his lap. He lounges in the stiff wooden chair like it was a throne, one leg propped up on the other knee. He studies the line of Kakashi’s spine, and cocks his head to the left.

“Shall I be answering that?” He asks curiously.

“... No,” Kakashi says quietly, shoulders hunched. “ I should.”

He gets a long look for that answer, before Orochimaru shrugs his shoulders indifferently and goes back to his scroll, hooking his tea cup by it’s handle and taking in a long draw.

Yes, Kakashi thinks. Angels can indeed be cruel.

He slides himself off the chair, experiencing a momentary flash of hysterical frustration at the fact that his feet when sitting are a good foot off the goddamn ground, before turning toward the sitting room, to where the front entry sits.

For every step that he takes to that door, Kakashi feels every single year he’s ever lived settle into the weight on his shoulders, bearing down and bending his spine. By the time he actual lays his hand on the doorknob, Kakashi feels like a slight breeze could knock him off his feet and send him tumbling to the ground.

It’s definitely not a good position to be in. Not for this. Especially not for this.

He opens the door anyway, because Kakashi knows that everything happening to him right now is inevitable anyway. It doesn’t mean he has to look forward to it.

The door swings in, and standing across the threshold is a girl just barely a head taller than he stands now. She holds a Tupperware container in both hands, and there’s a nervous but cheery and kind smile fixed on her lips.

Kakashi wants to slam the door closed in her face. He wants to so badly, but he knows it would go over well with literally no one anywhere, so instead he leans into it and blinks at her quizzically. It’s about all he has energy left to do. He’d spent most of it walking over here.

“K-Kakashi-kun,” the girl greets, smile widening ever so slightly. “Good morning! Or—or afternoon!”

“Rin,” he returns warily, trying his best to keep anything that he’s thinking off his face. She’s scarily perceptive when it concerns the people she cares about, which Kakashi counts towards for a reason only the kami and Rin herself likely know. “Is it?”

“... Ah?”

“After noon,” he elaborates. He casts a glance over his shoulder, to where he can just barely see Orochimaru sitting at the dining table, as if in hopes for a confirmation of the time. The man doesn’t even look up from his scroll. No help from him, then. Kakashi isn’t even sure why he tried.

The barest hint of worry crinkles the skin between Rin’s brows, and she's obviously trying so hard to hide it behind the friendly smile, but Kakashi’s read people for a living. There’s always the little tells, like the way she adjusts her grip o the container.

“Yes,” she affirms, taking a hesitant step forward and gesturing toward the Tupperware. “Um, may I come in? I brought you some lunch!”

Kakashi stares at her, for perhaps a second too long than was necessary, because she begins to fidget again. He carefully pushes himself off the door and, despite going slowly, almost falls over his own feet back into the sitting room.

“Yeah,” he says. “Okay.”

He leads her into the apartment, and barely blinks before he’s sitting down on the couch again, staring into Pakkun’s grumpy scowl. “Huh,” he says, and glances around.

Rin’s sitting primly on the cushion beside him, wringing her hands in her lap, Tupperware nowhere in sight. She edges a millimeter over and gazes worriedly at him from behind Pakkun’s head.

“You sort of,” she pauses, and bites her lip. “You sort of tripped. Ah, your friend, um, Oro-“

“Snake-boy caught ya before you irreparably damaged your adorable little face and set you on the couch for safe keeping,” Pakkun says, deftly dodging around the hand Kakashi automatically lashes out with in retaliation for the perceived insult to the snake sannin. He’s not even sure why anymore. Apparently it’s instinct now.

Orochimaru himself leans over the back of the couch to look down his nose at Kakashi. Somehow he doesn’t even look snobbish, though Kakashi feels he rightly should.

“You’ve really got to stop all of this fainting,” the man drawls smoothly. “What’s the point of fighting it? Just go to bed and don’t get up until it passes.”

“Does that work for you,” Kakashi asks. It’s not exactly posed as a question, but he is curious about the answer. Does Orochimaru actually sleep? No, that’s stupid. Why wouldn’t he?

Kakashi side eyes the man a little suspiciously. There’s a question.

Orochimaru presses a quiet breath out of his nose—not quite a scoff, but it has the same energy as one. He turns on his heel and heads back toward the kitchen for his tea and his scroll.

“You should eat something,” he tosses over his shoulder as he leaves Kakashi to the nervous girl and the stressed out nanny ninken. Swell guy.

“Um!” Rin hops up to her feet, nervous energy making Kakashi feel a little jittery just by proximity. “I actually, I made—stir fry. Back home. But I had extra, and, well…”

She grins a bit uneasily, obviously still caught off guard by Kakashi apparently fucking blacking out on the floor after inviting her into his home. “I had extra, and I heard you weren’t… feeling well. So I thought…”

Kakashi eyes her from his peripheral. “What kind of stir fry?”

Rin’s shoulders smooths out a bit. “Um, eggplant. With garlic.”

Kakashi stares at her. Kami, he thinks, Rin’s an actual liar, the hell? She didn’t make this for herself and just end up with surplus, she made it for Kakashi with the intent of giving it to him after. Eggplant? Kakashi’s favorite. Everyone and their mother knew that… for some odd reason, Kakashi isn’t really sure of, just that it probably had something to do with Gai and shouting things from mountaintops. And garlic? Garlic ?

Kakashi’s no chef or village medicine guru, but—

“What did you think I was sick with,” he asks, and he’s so obviously out of his depth that he’s not even trying to cover it up with false bravado.

Rin’s face goes bright red, and she gives a sheepish little laugh, shoulders dropping in defeat. “Ha… um, sensei said you were nauseous, so I figured it was a stomach ache or the flu or something…”

She trails off, bites her lip again, and adds, “But, with what just happened, I think it’s a bit more than just being sick? Are you okay?”

“Absolutely not,” Kakashi replies automatically, “thank you for asking.”

Rin stares at him with a silent, slightly open-mouthed sort of shock, and Kakashi gives himself an inward shake.

He slouches down a bit into the seat cushion, and sighs. “I’m sorry,” he says. “It’s all really just… a lot.”

Rin looks alarmed. “Is it really bad?” She asks him, voice hushed. “Like, need a hospital, bad?”

Kakashi treats her with a suspicious stare, suddenly very much aware of the fact that, though she isn’t one yet, Rin has most certainly been a medic nin in another life.

“No, of course not,” he says.

From in the kitchen, Orochimaru audibly chuckles. Kakashi sends the man a narrow-eyed look, despite being unable to actually see him from the couch. The wall separating them would not be enough to shield Orochimaru from Kakashi’s unamusement.

Rin studies him a bit harder than Kakashi really wants her too, in this moment. After some time, though, he seems to check out as not immediately dying, so she just nods and steps back to give him some breathing space, a tiny little blush adorning her tattooed cheeks.

“So! Um,” she scratches her arm, and then gestures toward the kitchen. “Stir fry?”

Kakashi nods, and somehow they make it all the way to the table without him checking out from consciousness again. Will wonders never cease.

Eating a meal with Rin and Orochimaru is quality entertainment, at least for Kakashi, who is now apparently immune to the previously natural innate terror and wariness of the snake sannin that everyone seems to experience. Rin, decidedly, is not, and keeps glancing at the man from the corner of her eye as she pushes noodles around on her plate, unable to scrounge up enough appetite to actually eat. Orochimaru, bless the man, patiently ignores her very existence, which is a good thing, since Kakashi is pretty sure Rin might up and run from the apartment if he so much as spoke a word to her.

It’s sad, Kakashi suddenly realizes. Sad, because even Rin, who had been the standard of kindness that he’d compared everyone else to all throughout his life, is caught up in the villager’s fear mongering.

They tuck into the food quietly. Kakashi hasn’t been out long enough for it to need rehearing, and Rin has apparently trooped on over immediately after finishing it, because there’s still steam curling up from it when she takes the lid off. A noodle sizzles. Kakashi eyes her in slight alarm, but she determinedly ignored him, dishing out three plates of the stir fry and setting them at the table, one in front of Orochimaru with a hesitant but asking smile. The man stares at her for barely three second, but accepts graciously before her hand can start to tremble and drop the dish.

Pakkun’s disappeared, probably back to wherever he goes when he’s not babysitting Kakashi’s dumb ass, and the boy momentarily chases the thought of what dogs he has with him at this point in time, exactly. He sits down and picks up a pair of chopsticks—nice ones, polished black wood and definitely not anything Kakashi would ever buy for himself, living off take-out more often than not anyway—and digs in, figuring he has at least Pakkun, Bull, and Shiba. He thinks he might have Bisule and Ūhei, as well, but… no, he’s seven. Ūhei wouldn’t be here yet.

Kakashi eats silently, feeling substantially down. He suddenly misses his dogs so much that it feels like ice in his stomach, making it a bit difficult to eat the food, which is a crying shame because it honestly tastes amazing. Rin always did had a knack for cooking, and though it isn’t anywhere near Orochimaru’s level (because apparently that was a thing), it’s obvious she’d put a lot of effort into this.

Kakashi lifts up another bite, and slides it out from between the chopsticks with his teeth, achingly slowly and very much aware of every second that ticks past. Time passes like this for a while, and he sits there with one hand manning his chopsticks and his food while the other curls protectively around the tea cup, tucking it close to his chest as if someone might come by a take it from him should he let it go. Time crawls by and at the same time Kakashi feels like the rest of the day has passed even if it’s only bee fifteen minutes. He’s tired. And worn. And he doesn’t want to be here at all, because Rin keeps glancing over at him from beneath her bangs and Kakashi can’t stand seeing her smile at him, knowing everything he’s done to her and having it just be wiped clean like this. It grossly unfair. She doesn’t remember. Of course she doesn’t remember. She’d been dead, and now it hasn’t even happened yet.

His head swims confusedly.

Kakashi glances over toward the fridge, toward the calendar hanging on it’s door, and goes still at the date displayed there. Someone, probably Minato judging by the cheerful duck yellow ink, has been marking off the days for him since he’d come back, because he’s certainly not been doing it. Bright Xs lance across half a weeks worth of boxes, leading up to the current day, which is a Thursday.

Kakashi kind of hates Thursdays, because all the horrible things in his life seems to happen on them, every time.

He turns back to his plate with a more subdued pace, pushing the last few bites of stir fry around with his chopsticks. It’s been delicious, compliments to Rin’s hard-earned cooking skills, but now Kakashi can only stare sightlessly down at them, appetite vanished and stomach doing funny little flips that he really hopes settle down before he loses its contents in a most unpleasant fashion.

Rin frowns at him from across the table. “Kakashi-kun?”

He sets his chopsticks aside, placing them on his napkin.

“Nothing,” he says, and then winces internally, adding, “I’m fine,” when neither of his lunch mates looks like they believe him.

Orochimaru gives a small, nearly incredulous shake of his head. He’d finished his plate ages ago and was perusing his scroll once more, head bowed over his lap. Somehow, his spine didn’t seem to be suffering from the position, and Kakashi is envious, because he remembers back pain from when he’d been older. Lots and lots of back pain.  

“Whenever you say that,” the sannin comments, “you’re lying.”

Kakashi stares at his plate, at the last bite of stir fry that he knows he can’t possibly fit into his stomach. If he tries, that’s the end of it. He’ll be confined to the bathroom for the rest of the afternoon.

“Quite badly,” Orochimaru tacks on, almost as an afterthought. He stands up and goes to put on another pot. Kakashi’s beginning to think this is the reason his skin is so flawless, and the man himself so long lived. He inhales tea like it’s air. He must experience the health benefits to an infinite.

And, god, but Kakashi is definitely going to follow in his footsteps on that.

A hand touches his arm. He glances over at it—it’s small, but still a bit bigger than his are. Rin looks at him worriedly from where she’s sitting around the table corner from him, plate long since already washed clean and put away in the cupboards.

“Are you sure everything’s okay?” She asks, worrying at her bottom lip. “You’re not feeling sick at all?”

“I’m feeling sick no matter what all the time,” Kakashi says, because he has absolutely no brain-to-mouth filter at all. “It doesn’t really mean anything now.”

Rin’s brows meet, a contemplative frown pulling at her eyes, and Kakashi sinks lower in his seat, reaching out to push his plate away from him. He eyes his empty tea mug with an air of distaste, and turns an expectant look toward Orochimaru.

The man, curse him, doesn’t look up for a good few minutes, and Kakashi is content to stare intently at him until the message gets through, god forbid he use his words —until Rin apparently can’t handle the awkwardness any longer and gives a small, polite cough that makes the sannin glance up lazily from whatever it was he was so immersed in reading.

Orochimaru blinks, and eyes Kakashi for a moment, before snorting and reaching out to snag the boy’s mug and refilling it from the fresh pot he’d prepared.

Kakashi accepts the mug, unable to withhold the pleased little noise that bubbles up out of his throat when his hands come in contact with that pleasant heat that exudes from the ceramic like a siren call, and draws it close to his chest in the hopes some of it will emanate there as well.

Rin stares at him, and continues to until Kakashi offhandedly murmurs out an absent, “thank you.”

Orochimaru hums, returning to his scroll—Kakashi is starting to get curious about that thing—and the both of them leave Rin to sit there in the comfortable silence that follows.

Not very comfortable for her, though, Kakashi realizes when he she begins to fidget again. She has her hands folded in her lap and wrings them out almost obsessively as she locks her gaze meekly on the table grains, instead of looking anywhere else.

He sits there for a moment longer, pressing his steaming cup against his diaphragm and sighing quietly at the warmth it sends pulsing into him just from touch alone. Then, he gets up from the chair and uses the newfound energy to make his way to the living room.

“Come on,” he says over his shoulder when all Rin does is stare dumbly after him. “I skipped some training. Tell me what I missed.”

There’s a moment of stillness, before a shaky but real grin makes its way across her face, and she bounces up from the chair to follow him to the couch.

Kakashi doesn’t see it, but it feels like Orochimaru is rolling his eyes after them.




“—then,” Rin continues, eyes narrowed and tongue flicking out to push at the corner of her mouth as she stares at the string threaded around her hands avidly, crossing it over itself some here and tying a piece off there, “sensei put us both onto water walking drills again. Probably expected it to translate into a sense of admission and reformation.”

She’s finger-knitting, and Kakashi had forgotten all about this little quirk of hers. About how she did it, sometimes with her fingers but later on more often with senbon needles, in order to let out some of the bounciness that eternally plagued her. Otherwise there’d be no chance of her sitting still. He can just barely recall once having a long, soft scarf hanging up on a coat hook once, and finally remembers that she’d made it for him after a mission that had been rather difficult on all of them. It had given her something to do.

It had been light blue. Kakashi never wore it, not once, but when he’d been much older, and Rin long since gone from his life, he’d sometimes run his fingers over it when the moments of quiet that pervaded his life would become too much to bear. The scarf doesn’t exist now. That mission never happened. And Rin is here, sitting next to him, practicing a stitch that Kakashi now remembers her being a master at, before.

He presses his back against the cushions, moving his shoulder blades back and forth to feel the rough fabric through his thin t-shirt.

“Was it for punishment?” He asks.

Rin looks up at that, an absent sort of calculating glint shining in her eyes that Kakashi doesn’t remember being a characteristic of her, but perhaps that’s just another thing he’d forgotten about her as time had passed on. He’s been sitting here for a good two hours, listening to her ramble on about the three days of training he’d missed and psychoanalysing every single aspect of the interactions she’d had with their sensei and third and final teammate.

“No,” she finally muses. “I don’t think so. He’s been really distracted lately, and neither of us have really been putting our all into our training this week. I think he was frustrated. He usually reverts to teammate training exercises when he feels like he’s not doing well as a teacher. I think that he feels that, if he can’t impart anything more on us today, then maybe we can find a way to help each other out instead.”

She sinks her teeth into her bottom lip, staring at the far wall as she thinks. “It’s like he can’t stand not having any sort of progress happen when we’re all working to better ourselves. Maybe he feels like he’s a bad sensei, if he can’t teach us at least something every time we get together to train. Like that saying, ‘you learn something new every day’? I think he subconsciously takes it as an ultimatum.”

It’s odd. He hadn’t thought Rin was that observant, that good at reading people, that introspective. He’s heard more hypotheses about the inner workings of Minato-sensei’s mind in the last hour than he’d ever pondered in his entire life. Most of him had really just assumed the man winged it, all of it, all the time, but according to Rin’s theories, Minato actually gave quite a lot of thought to everything he did. Overthinking a lot of things, too, occasionally, apparently just to give his overactive mind something to keep it busy.

Rin might have an overactive mind too, Kakashi thinks, if this is what she goes on about when someone gives her a chance to actually chatter away at them.

He’ll have to watch himself carefully from now on, the man-turned-boy suddenly realizes. He’s surrounded by a lot more genii than he’d previously assumed. Maybe, or maybe he doesn’t have to keep his eyes open at all. Kakashi feels almost naked to everyone’s eyes. Like they can all see right through him no matter what he does. What’s the point in trying to hide anything from the people closest to you if they were all frighteningly intelligent in some way or another?

Is everyone in Konoha just that terrifyingly smart and observant and prodigious?

Kakashi thinks about Naruto, and has to withhold a bitingly sour scoff. No. The villagers had proved the opposite, time and time again, willfully flat out ignoring the obvious. Naruto and his sunny smiles and the paradoxical demon inked into his gut. He thinks about Orochimaru, and cooking, and his lips thin beneath the navy mask. He thinks about his dad, and swords—the actual weapons, and words that could be used as such, and suddenly Kakashi can’t hear Rin talking at all.

He’s looking down at his hands. They lie in his lap, clenched into white-knuckled fists around the hems of his shorts. They’re shaking.

He looks up in the silence to find Rin staring at him. The calculating glint is still there, and her face holds no expression, but Kakashi feels like his whole self is being exposed for her perusal and observation. He hunches forward a little bit, subconsciously entertaining the instinct to hide away from her gaze.

The energy approaching the apartment isn’t exactly helping his frazzled nerves in any way at all.

The two of them sit there, silently, Kakashi staring at his knees like they’re the most fascinating thing in the world, and Rin’s fingers are moving like a lightning jutsu. At this rate she’ll complete an entire sweater before the evening’s out.

Footsteps thunder outside in the corridor, and Kakashi really just wants to go crawl in bed, close his eyes, and pretend his very hardest that nothing outside his bedroom even exists anymore. He should have known.

Where Rin goes, there’s one person who typically tends to follow.

Kakashi sucks in a deep breath and steels himself as the familiar and bittersweet energy converges outside his apartment. Might as well just rip the bandage off in one fell swoop, he guesses.

Chapter Text

Minato runs a hand through his hair as he approaches the tower from the rooftops, hoping it doesn’t look as bedraggled and greasy as Minato feels. He hadn’t really had the time to even head home for a shower, and he can still feel the sweat from yesterday’s training coating his body.

Minato shudders and attempts to turn his thought in another direction. He hates feeling dirty.

It most certainly isn’t Kakashi’s fault, of course not. The poor boy hadn’t even been awake when Minato had left, and the last look he’d had of his student, Kakashi had appeared no better than the day before. It was greatly disheartening. Minato had really been clinging to the idea that this sickness was one of the ones that could be cleared with a good clean and some ample rest and fluids—but no. It seems like this isn’t just a really bad cold or the flu like he’s been hoping. Kakashi really has something wrong going on here.

It’s terrifying to think, but Minato debates with himself whether or not he should actually go through with taking the boy to the hospital after all.

Kami, when would Kushina be home? She was so much better at all this than Minato could ever hope to be. He’s not quite sure how he’d ever lived without her there to manage his life.

He’d told something similar to Hiruzen just the other week. The old man had laughed at him, and then admitted that he’d most likely be dead several times over were it not for his wife.

Wife —the word puts buzzing hornets inside Minato’s stomach. Weren’t they suppose to be butterflies? Whoever had some up with that phrase clearly had never actually been in love.

He vaults over the shingles of the final building and hauls himself over the window sill of Hiruzen’s office with as little sound as possible. He’d been yelled at the other day for being too loud—which, honestly… who complained about that in a ninja village? Every civilian Minato had ever met in his life had at one moment or another asked him point-blank to stop being to quiet , and Minato hadn’t even been trying to sneak then!

Ninja, Minato decides, are strange. Or maybe it’s the civilians who are the odds ones. Actually, perhaps it was just everyone?

The world would make more sense that way, wouldn’t it.

The Hokage gives him a gloomy look from over the multiple stacks of paperwork crowding for space on the man’s desk. Minato pretends not to see it, and cheerfully leans himself on a free corner of the wood, also resolutely ignoring the paperwork that looms over him threateningly. If he pretends it doesn’t exist, then it has no place in his future, at all, ever.

Minato can keep his fingers crossed, can’t he?

Hiruzen sniffs, and then frowns. “... Why do you smell like bleach?”

Minato’s face goes red. “Th—These are the same clothes from yesterday!” He yelps, forgetting for a moment that the Hokage does not, in fact, just naturally know every single faucet of his life inside and out (despite how the old man occasionally may pretend).

They both stare at each other for a long moment, Hiruzen blinking rapidly while Minato’s face feels frozen in some sort of grimace. He can hear an ANBU or two shift in the rafters, and embarrassment burns inside his chest.

“Okay,” Hiruzen agrees, baffled. “Why?”

Minato presses his lips together and turns to resolutely stare out the nearest window, which is left open simply because half the ninja in the village don’t understand how to use the door. He crosses his arms over his chest, and answers, “Well. I was over at Kakashi’s apartment last night to check up on him, and we all figured it’d do him some good to take a bath.”

He spins around, face morphing into a slightly upset expression. “But the tub was filthy —not that I’d have expected much else from a bathroom in one of the older apartment complexes, but there was no way I was letting Kakashi bathe in a tub with—with grime and scum and just—“

Minato pauses, rubbing both hands over his face like the action would wipe away the mental picture of the utter grossness of the tub from his mind. “So I just. I cleaned it. But now I smell like bleach, because I got some on my clothes and,” he gestures helplessly at the knees of his pants, which instead of the dark navy of typical ninja attire, there were spots of bright orange where he’d accidentally kneeled in a puddle of chemicals.

Hiruzen scrutinizes him, hand running through his beard in a way that Minato feels is a little judgemental. “Biyako tends to use baking soda to clean tile and porcelain. Leaves less of a stench, and gets more of a scrub in.”

“I know that!” Minato’s hands fly up to tear at his hair. “Kushina taught me better. And no ninja worth his salt would use bleach for anything other than… well, you know. What we use bleach for. Not cleaning .”

“It was technically invented for cleaning,” the Hokage comments mildly.

“Yeah, for civilians .”

Hiruzen’s lips twitch beneath his beard.

The blonde ninja harrumphs. “Kakashi doesn’t have any baking soda, not in his entire apartment. Who doesn’t have baking soda? It practically comes with a place when you buy it, already in the fridge or the laundry room or—something!”

“And why couldn’t you have just worn a clean outfit this morning? You do own more than one suit, don’t you? I should hope you’re not wearing the same one day in and day out.”

“Oh, I spent the night at Kakashi’s,” Minato says. “He really wasn’t looking too sharp, and I didn’t feel right leaving him there by himself all night. I didn’t have time to go home and change clothes this morning before training.”

“He’s been fine for the past two nights, hasn’t he?”

Minato makes a face. “Define ‘fine’ for me, because I’m not really sure Kakashi’s it.”

Hiruzen leans back in his chair, staring ahead of his desk at the wall where the portraits of the past Hokage hang, loomingly, ready to judge every single decision of the current one. He runs another hand through his beard, hums, and the absentmindedly shuffles one of the many stacks of papers on his desk.

Minato steps away from the window, finding one of the office chairs and seating himself in it with a tired sigh. He leans his elbows on his knees and clasps his hands together.

 

“Councilman Shimura asked after Hatake-kun the other day, you know.”

He glances up. The Hokage is staring at him with a unreadable expression on his face, one that’s belied by the intense watchful gleam that shines in his eyes. He’s fishing for something here, perhaps from Minato’s reaction, or reply, but Minato isn’t sure what.

“He seemed quite miffed, oddly enough.”

“How is that odd?” Minato asks carefully, holding himself still. “Shimura-san is always miffed about one thing or another. I thought that was just his default personality.”

Hiruzen gives him a look, but Minato firmly glances away from it. He’s only speaking the truth, anyway, and the old man knows it too, even if he is blind to everything else his old friend Danzou seems to get up to in his free time. Minato refuses to be non-verbally chastised for simply stating fact.

“Why are you looking at me like that?” He asks, when the man doesn’t let up. “I’m right.”

Hiruzen just sighs, and rubs at the bridge of his nose between his eyes. Minato almost feels a little bad, but not enough that he’ll do anything about it. Half the Hokage’s problems are created by the man’s own decisions and behavior. If Minato didn’t want to make a difference in the world so that it’d be safer and happier for the people that he cares about, he would curse his child self for ever thinking becoming Hokage was a good career path. Look what it’s done to Sarutobi Hiruzen, the so called Kami of Shinobi.

Minato tilts his head and looks his mentor over with careful eyes. He isn’t quite so old, by normal standards, but by shinobi standards? Hiruzen is practically an ancient artifact. Ninja don’t live very long, and people of their culture learn to accept that from a very young age, knowing that they can die from any means whatsoever at any time in the near future.

Minato doesn’t care much about himself, no. He’s done enough already that he’s content with whatever end the Kami have lined up for him. Sure, he could definitely do more, and he will continue to strive for that until the day comes where he actually does bite the dust. But the very prospect when applied to his loved ones terrifies him.

It may be why he’s been so off-kilter all week. Finding Kakashi nearly comatose on the boy’s own bathroom floor had nearly given Minato a heart attack, and even now Minato won’t kid himself by thinking Kakashi isn’t in serious trouble. He’s been dazed and confused and overly-emotional since he first woke up, and Minato might just go insane with worry if this goes on for any longer.

Now, if Kakashi were a normal child, he might not be so concerned. Kids, even ninja kids, cried or got moody when they aren’t feeling all that great. It would make sense.

But, Kakashi isn’t a normal child, ninja, civilian or otherwise. He’s never done a single thing that befits a normal child since Minato first met him. And all of a sudden, it’s like a dam’s been burst, and all of Kakashi’s repressed child instincts have flooded his system and taken over.

Minato isn’t exactly sure whether he should be worried or relieved . Both feelings war inside him, fighting for the top spot and mingle harshly with everything else swimming in his brain.

On one hand, it’s nice to see Kakashi acting his age. He of all people deserves to feel the comfort of childhood, and Minato knows of at least a handful of people—Orochimaru, bizarrely, now to be counted among that handful—who would definitely not mind providing the boy that comfort. On the other hand, watching the repressed emotions and instincts collapse over a person like a tidal wave is akin to bearing witness to the drowning of someone you care about without being able to swim out and help them.

Minato will swim out anyway, even if it seems like there’s nothing he can do. He’ll be the rock Kakashi can cling to to stay out of the roiling waves. He has to be. Kakashi doesn’t have a lot of people left. And Minato will be damned before he allows the boy to sink.

Hiruzen sets the papers down on a clear space of the desk and pulls out his pipe, fiddling with the end of it. Minato watches him pack the bowl with some sort of tar, and idly wonders if he should actually avoid the Hokage position after all.

“I understand that you don’t necessarily approve of him,” the Hokage begins genially, and Minato resists the urge to roll his eyes, because oh boy, here they go. “Danzou has had to make many difficult sacrifices for the betterment of the village. All that he does, is with—“

“The best for Konoha in mind,” Minato interrupts, quoting the old man himself, because they’ve had this same conversation too many times to count, and Hiruzen always says the same thing. “But can you, without a single doubt in your mind, say that what Danzou considers in the best interests of Konoha is really and truly what the village needs?”

The Hokage stares cooly at him from over the great wooden desk, and Minato has two vividly contrasting thoughts in that moment. The first is rather enthusiastic, a hollering This is why I’m going to become Hokage! To change things like this to the way that it should be! The second is quieter, more subdued, but it echoes hauntingly in the back of his head as Minato meets the old man’s gaze and sees a vast, empty weariness tug at their corners, strain at the man’s shoulders and claw at his war-beaten skin like it’s trying to drag him to an early grave.

Is it really worth it after all? What use is it to prune and cultivate a tree whose roots have been rotted through?



Grief is a funny thing, and not necessarily in a humorous way. Though some may see it that way simply so their minds can process it. Kakashi once knew a career chunin who’d lost all genin teammates early on, and who from then on until his own death joked and teased about mortality as if he were flirting with the shinigami itself, simply because otherwise he wouldn’t have been able to go on past the trauma.

And that was fine. Everyone deals with it differently. Genma had lost a lot of the same people Kakashi had, and the Hatake had first row seats to the Shiranui’s unique brand of grief—shoveling it all up to let loose on the battlefield. Genma would occasionally sit by himself at the bar, having a single beer—he was never one to drink excessively—and stew in a broody sort of silence, and everyone would know to leave him alone. But, generally, Genma let loose in spars and in battles and, later, in war. It had kept him better relaxed in more polite company.

It’s nearly the same for Kakashi. Sure, he uses his negative feelings as a driving force in battle—what good shinobi doesn't? Except, Kakashi never really unlocked the ability of turning it off elsewhere, like Genma had seemed to. And Kakashi wasn’t exactly one to joke or make fun about something that affected him so strongly. It just feels disrespectful to everyone that he’d failed to save.

Grief, for Kakashi, is like another physical scar. It sits there, carved out of your own skin, and you can feel it every day of your life as you live and breath while others can’t anymore. It pulsates with a distant, thundering sort of pain when it rains, and with storms comes a melancholy mood that is difficult to shake off even when the sun shows it face again afterward.

Grief clings to Kakashi like it were part of his own scent. Whenever he inhales deeply enough, he can smell it surrounding himself like a heavy perfume. It’s suffocating, occasionally, but he’s learned to live with it, because Kakashi was always both too strong and too cowardly to die from it. It had come close to killing him, too many times to count, but then he’d think of his father and how furious and betrayed Kakashi could remember feeling toward the man, and at the last second he’d find so many reasons not to let it win.

At first it was ANBU. The elite shadows had been down in numbers following the Kyuubi attack. If Kakashi were to die, that’d just be one less member to do the dirty work Konoha needed in the background to function in relative peace. Who was Kakashi to deny Konoha one of its more useful tools? And so he’d been useful, very useful.

After that, it had been—Kakashi won’t lie and say he didn’t have friends. How could he say that, when there was Gai? There was always Gai. And after Gai, there’d be Genma, who would drag in Raidou, and Kakashi shudders to think what Anko might have done to him should he go down such a path. Eventually there had even been Asuma.

After that, it doesn’t even bear thinking about. His team . His precious students. Need he say any more?

It makes him uneasy, to be in a time where he doesn’t have any of that, to ground him. Where once Kakashi looked to find a balm to the constant sting of panic that thrums beneath his skin always, there is nothing but  strange emptiness that throws Kakashi so off-kilter he sometimes isn’t sure how he’s standing. He has been increasingly uneasy with every breath he takes the longer that this new reality sinks into his head. Orochimaru has been a help, simply because he and his frankly unpsychotic behavior and stiff politeness is startlingly new to Kakashi. It's not something he’d ever experienced before, and Kakashi is truthful enough inside his own head to admit that it may be the one thing holding him upright. His brain isn’t sure how to take it. It doesn’t fit with what had actually happened in Kakashi’s past childhood— Orochimaru doesn’t fit with any memory Kakashi has of the man. And that’s good. Kakashi can cling to that.

But grief doesn’t just go away. It’s a permanent stench. It seeps into the skin and settles there like it’s just another biological layer, the griefidermus.

Kakashi never learnt how to handle it properly. Most days, when his students did their adorable antics and pestered him to pass along his knowledge, and fought with each other, and grinned pure sunshine at him, punched through a tree with her bare fist, or nonchalantly contemplated an enemy’s murder, Kakashi could ignore everything else.

It’s hard now. Kakashi doesn’t have any little genin—and then chunin and so on —to distract him, now. He’s in the deep end and doesn’t know how to swim, and the life buoy is sitting all the way in the other room drinking tea and reading a mysterious scroll.

A dark-haired boy slams the door to Kakashi’s apartment closed behind him, stomping across the room with a rather aggrieved scowl marring his face. Kakashi sits stock still as the boy hauls himself to a stop before him, and stabs a finger at his chest with an aborted, violent movement.

Ba-ka-shi ,” he grits out, shoulders trembling, and he must be really upset if he’s on the verge of tears like this. Obito didn’t usually cry when he was angry, just when he was sad, or hurt, or—well, any other emotion, really.

Kakashi swallows thickly, bringing up a hand to rub at his chest.

Rin glances over at him on concern from her seat beside him on the couch. She opens her mouth, with a slight frown, “U-Um, Obito—“

Obito’s finger collides with Kakashi’s chest, and he steamrolls right over her attempt. “What’s up with you playing hooky, lately, huh? I know you think you’re better than us somehow, or something—and you’re totally wrong, by the way!—but that’s no excuse to stop coming to training and abandon your team as if we won’t care, bastard !”

Kakashi stares at him with wide eyes.

Obito presses out a big breath, a bit too explosive to be a sigh, and crosses his arms over his chest with a great harrumph, eyeing him carefully. “Just because you’re ahead of us doesn’t mean—“

Kakashi was wrong. He’d thought, maybe, it wouldn’t be so bad. After all, he’s survived the first encounters with Pakkun and Minato-sensei, and even Rin. He’d thought he would be able to handle it. But, no. He really and truly can’t . There’s a white-hot feeling somewhat akin to terror climbing up his chest, and then his throat. There aren’t any friends nearby who understand to distract him with a well-placed mock-insult, or a story about how childish their students still are, or drive the conversation in a different direction without glancing at Kakashi at all. There aren’t any rambunctious and ambition-driven, prodigious teenagers to drape themselves over him and make a loud comment about how he hasn’t bought them lunch in a while, doesn’t he care whether or not that they were eating well enough anymore? There isn’t even a convenient life buoy nearby to crawl over to and hide behind.

Instead, there’s a high pitched sound, like Bisuke makes after he falls from the counter when Pakkun shoves him off—he realizes its coming from him , and Kakashi brings up both hands to bury his face into their trembling palms.

He hears a soft little gasp come from Rin. “Obito!” She snaps, and a line of heat presses into Kakashi’s side as she scoots closer to him in an awkward attempt to offer some sort of comfort.

“Uh?! Wha—“ the Uchiha stumbles over his syllables, and then his feet as he scrambles forward and ducks down to try and peer at Kakashi’s face.

“What the hel— I mean, are you— what’re you doing ?”

There’s a whoosh of wind, and a presence appears right behind Obito rather abruptly. Minato-sensei stares down at the three of them with an unreadable expression, before kneeling down and putting a careful arm around Kakashi’s shaking shoulders, drawing the boy in toward his chest.

“What happened?”

“Obito made Kakashi-kun cry ,” Rin tattles. Her voice carries a heated accusatory tone that Kakashi’s can’t remember ever hearing her direct at anyone before.

“I’m not crying,” Kakashi denies immediately. The words come out sounding like he’s got a cold, and he leans in to press his face into Minato’s shoulder. A hand comes up to settle on his back comfortingly.

“Obito?” Their sensei asks, with his Serious voice that he typically only used for lectures on the darker side of shinobi life, when he wanted them to listen carefully and not take the subject lightly.

Obito sounds shaky when he replies, like he’s the one who’s crying. “I’m—I don’t know , sensei! I was just—I was asking him—I was….”

He trails off, face twisted into one of deep contemplation warring with objection, and then asks in a subdued voice, “He must really be sick. Like, really sick, isn’t he?”

Minato is silent for a moment, and they just stand there without speaking, all of them listening to the sniffles and quiet sobs that Kakashi is desperately trying to smother before they can make it out, because Kami this is fucking embarrassing . He burrows further into his teacher’s arms, frustrated with the fact that he’s unable to keep his own body from shaking like a leaf in autumn, and is suddenly just dumbfounded by the simple fact that he can do this .

He can actually do this. Sensei is here for Kakashi to touch, and interact with, and talk to, and listen to, and he’s there , alive, because Kakashi hasn’t fucked up yet. Minato-sensei is here in the room with him, holding him, and Kakashi can feel the warmth of his body, can feel the breaths that exit his lungs flutter across the hair on the top of his head.

His throat closes up, and the next sob that manages to squeeze out sounds particularly strangled. Kakashi’s shoulders hunch, and his palms dig into his eye sockets, but he leans his entire body into Minato-sensei and tries his best to dig himself a place right inside all of that blessed warmth that the man produces just by being there.

“What exactly did you say to him?” Sensei finally asks, and there’s a bout of pregnant silence, where Obito squirms uncomfortably and Rin levels him with a hard stare where she says nothing, but condemns him without words.

Obito eventually caves, “I was just… I was just asking him why he was gone from training.”

“You know it was because he’s sick, Obito, I told you both that at the beginning of the week.”

“But, it’s been too long!” The Uchiha explodes. “He never misses training, and suddenly he’s gone for days in a row? I’ve seen him train with bronchitis before, sensei! If he’s out now , with whatever he has, he should be in the hospital ! What if he’s dying ?”

Rin speaks up, then, before Minato can reply, and she still sounds upset with Obito, but her voice is quiet.

“You didn’t say that. You came bursting in here and accusing him of faking it.”

Obito ,” Minato sensei begins, aghast, and Obito’s shoulders go up to his ears, but Rin isn’t finished.

“And then ,” she scowls, “sensei, he… Obito. Tell sensei what you said.”

Obito squawks, limbs flailing. His face is pale when Kakashi peeks out from between his fingers, but his vision is too blurry to make much else out.

“Wh— but, Rin ! I know what I said was bad, okay? I’m—I’m sorry , I won’t do it again, it’s just—“

Minato is calm, but firm, when he asks, “Obito?”

They stand there, suffering through another long moment, and Kakashi feels imaginary fingers tightening around his throat and chest for every single second in which nobody says anything. He balls up his hands, knuckles going white, and shoves himself away from Minato-sensei with a weak push. Sensei’s arms are grounding, but hesitant, and so they fall away easily.

Minato blinks at him in surprise, and there’s that worried little crinkle in between his brows as he stares at him, mouth turned downwards.

“Kakashi?”

Kakashi shakes his head, unable to articulate just how undeserving he really is of all this concern that they’re heaping at him. He spins around almost drunkenly when another presence comes up on his left, and finds himself staring from under damp lashes to find an equally silent Orochimaru looking down at him.

He has barely three seconds for his mind to identify the man before he finds himself cradled securely in the snake sannin’s arms.

Kakashi considers the possibility that this may just be an alternate universe, when his only reaction is to curl inward and plaster himself against the man’s chest, arms wrapping around his neck and face smooshed into the crook of his shoulder, but he’s just so fucking relieved to be lifted out of the churning waves. For a second, he can just breathe , and the sensation of feeling air enter his burning lungs is enough to make Kakashi tear up anew.

Kakashi is beginning to realize, just today, that he hasn’t really known Orochimaru at all, even back in his proper time. To see the man, in a village that is still very much Orochimaru's home, acting like he hadn’t been broken down and starved, created into the raging mess of trauma and betrayal and hurt and misplaced not-understanding that he’d been up until mid-war—it was an eye opener to find that, in the end, Orochimaru was human, too. Just like Kakashi, and everyone else.

Orochimaru is a familiar face that doesn’t invoke all that many nightmarish memories for Kakashi, personally, and it seems that the safety the man’s presence promises is a successful balm to the childish emotions that tumble about with all the grace of a drunken toddler within his tiny seven-year old body.

He’s still choking on his own breaths, but the hand Orochimaru splays over his back and across his shoulder blades, does a lot more to calm him down than Kakashi ever would have imagined.

“I said…” a small voice speaks up from somewhere beneath and away from Kakashi, and they all turn to look at Obito, who’s wringing the hem of his shirt in between his hands. “I said that… just because he thinks he’s better than us, is… isn’t an excuse to… to… abandon his team and just n-not show up … and….”

“... Oh, Obito ,” Minato says, and his voice is so thick with all sorts of feelings , including some sort of realization, that Kakashi brings his arms back from around Orochimaru neck just to press his hands over his ears.

It’s nice, actually, sitting there in that little bubble of silence, when all he hears is the blood rushing inside his own body, and all he feels is the gentle up and down motion of Orochimaru’s chest as the man breaths. He’s not sure how much time passes, but when he opens his eyes a little, he finds that Orochimaru's moved them both to the couch, and the other members of his team have vanished. He sits up a bit glancing around, and removes his hands from his ears when he isn’t able to find them in the sitting room at all. His pulse fades from his ears after a few long moments, and he’s just able to hear a soft murmuring coming from the kitchen.

Kakashi sniffs, loudly, trying to clear up his sinuses. He feels like he has a head cold—or at least a worse one than before—and regrets ever drinking water at all as he rubs a weary hand across both eyes to wipe away the dampness.

He’s kind of useless, he realizes. If the others had gotten this miraculous, kami-given second chance, he’s pretty sure they’d have halfway saved the planet by now. Naruto would have brought about world peace, or something of a similar magnitude, Sakura would have had all the villages getting along simply through pure force and screeching—he loves that girl but she has definitely got some banshee blood somewhere in her family tree—lectures. Sasuke… Kakashi isn’t sure, but a lot of people who deserved it would be dead, some through mysterious means and some decidedly not. Him, though? Kakashi’s been back maybe five days and all he’s done is throw up, potentially piss off Danzou, and cry like a baby.

He’s not certain, but he doesn’t think he’d ever cried even back when he was actually seven. His younger self is probably watching all of this from some higher plane of existence, or wherever he’d been punted off to when Kakashi took over their body, and thoroughly disgusted with him.

He isn’t sure. He just has this very distinct feeling that his past self is leveling a harshly judgemental look at him right now. It’s sort of uncomfortable. He thinks that, maybe, if he wasn’t so exhausted from being a fucking crybaby, he might level one back at the brat, because? Why couldn’t Kakashi just be a child when he was a child? Why’d he have to grow up so fast? Kakashi’s been an adult since what feels like age three, and that… just isn’t fair. Is it? Even Itachi had that childhood phase, short as it might have been, where he sat around and played some games, maybe, cried a bit when he was upset, and got to hang from his mother’s arms. Kakashi knows, because he watched him do it. Even then, ANBU had had special interests in keeping an eye on the Uchiha.

Kakashi pauses at the thought. There’s something to be pondered there, later, but right now Kakashi isn’t really sure he has the time or the energy to really unpack all of that, and the potential exhausting contemplation that trying to figure out, not only the causation, but the solution to the village’s prejudice against the Uchiha is something Kakashi really needs to schedule ahead of time. Because that could take months just trying to untangle all those threads.

He blinks, and it feels like it takes a whole minute to complete the action. When he’s done, he looks to the left a bit and finds Orochimaru sitting calmly, one arm wrapped around Kakashi to hold him in place while the other hand is occupied by the scroll he’s been busy with all day. Kakashi watches him read for a while, eyes roving over the quietly content expression the man is wearing on his face. He shifts down a bit to lean into the snake sannin’s side, propping his cheek against his shoulder, and asked quietly, “What are you reading?”

Glittering gold eyes slant over to observe him with careful precision. Kakashi thinks he should be feeling like some sort of bug being held under a microscope, but instead another warm feeling erupts inside his chest. He’s beginning to think he’s worse than sick because, life buoy or not, he’s had the feeling way too often when around this Orochimaru for Kakashi’s poor mind to even begin to understand.

Finally, the man’s gaze returns to the scroll, and he says, “Research on the intricacies of the chakra pathways that wind inside our bodies.”

Kakashi gives a slow, long blink. “... Okay. Is it interesting?”

“Any knowledge that gives one a better understanding of their own self and that of other peoples’ is knowledge worth having, don’t you think?”

“Oh,” He can’t say he’d ever given it much thought, but… “That makes sense. Learning anything new?”

Something about his question makes the corner of Orochimaru’s mouth tick up in that odd smile. “Possibly. I do already understand the overarching concepts, but this scroll goes better in depth of a more obscure study.”

“Like what?”

Orochimaru settled back against the back couch cushions. Kakashi’s head swims at the sudden, if miniscule, drop, and he turns to press his forehead into the man’s shoulder and close his eyes to wait out the dancing spots in his vision. He almost misses Orochimaru’s arm tightening around him.

“Oftentimes, a ninja is fine with knowing the bare minimum about the source of their own life and power—that it is what keeps them alive, it is separated into two distinct halves of a whole, and that when they shape it with their minds and their hands it can do wondrous tricks and bend even the elements to their will. In the end, that is all about chakra that is much relevant to the minds of the common shinobi.”

Kakashi opens his eyes and sits up again, sucking in a shuddering breath. Orochimaru isn’t looking at him, eyes roving over the scroll in front of him, but there’s a displeased tilt to his mouth now.

“On the other hand, it seems rather dimwitted to not attempt to divulge the secrets and gain a deeper understanding of the very thing that is so prevalent in the lives of everything that draws breath—and some beside that—on the face of the earth, doesn’t it?”

“It does,” Kakashi finds himself replying thoughtfully. “Is that your main focus of study, then?”

Orochimaru gives him a strange look, but it doesn’t feel like he’s offended or anything, so Kakashi is pretty sure he didn’t just put his foot in his mouth. Like, seventy-five percent sure. He lets the scroll roll closed and sets it on the side table, adjusting his hold on Kakashi to sit them both up a bit. There’s something in his eyes that Kakashi cannot for the life of himself read.

“Among other things,” he replies, slowly, gaze locked on Kakashi’s face as if searching for clues to something. “I do try my best not to let myself become enamoured with just one subject. I feel that it cripples my intelligence, and lets the mind dull.”

Kakashi stares up at him, and belatedly makes a soft ‘aha’ noise when he realizes Orochimaru might be waiting for him to respond in turn. His mind is swirling with too many thoughts, but this serves as a great distraction, and now he’s gone off several bunny trails pondering the philosophy behind the human brain.

That same small, closed-lip smile crosses orochimaru’s face as he watches him, and the man carefully sets him to his side, on his own cushion. “Your question was a little peculiar, I must admit. Do you find yourself hyperfocusing on one single line of thought often?”

“Mm,” Kakashi says, gaze unfocused. He gives his head a little shake, careful not to let the motion disturb the soup inside of his skull that his brain has been of late, and leans himself back into a pillow. “I think so.”

And he does. Kakashi is, of course, a well trained shinobi, capable of a very high level of situational awareness—it was a necessity, in their line of work, and yet some were still better than it than others. Kakashi will admit that he is, at most, leaning toward the higher end of average at making sure not to let himself become distracted in the midst of battle.

Outside of battle, however… well, it’s not to say that Kakashi’s got his head in the clouds, of course not, he’s better than that . But there are times when his ever-roving brain latches onto something and he gets lost among the thoughts that it generates.

It’s honestly how he’d lost so much of his time in front of the memorial stone, back when he’d been an adult. He’d never once actually intended to go to the monument past the first few visits when he’d been a teenager, and get every so often he’s blink, and get lost in his own head, and when he opened his eyes he was staring at the names of most of the people in his life that he’d failed.

It had scared him. Even back then. He didn’t do it as much after becoming a jounin-sensei, if only because he’d never found enough time to wander around the twisting path of a long and perilous train of thought, being much too busy having his hands full with the lives of three little human aspiring ninja.

Even now, though, as he thinks on the honestly terrible bad habit of him, Kakashi feels… worry, or something much like it. How is he suppose to change the entire tide of the future itself if he was stuck inside his own head?

“Yeah,” he reiterates, tiredly. “I do.”

Orochimaru watches him with a quiet hanging in the air around them.

“Intelligence,” the man eventually says in a low voice as he makes to stand up from the couch, “is oftentimes a curse, more than it is a gift.” 

He slides the scroll off the table and into one of his long sleeves, and disappears into the kitchen, causing the soft murmuring to cut off abruptly. Kakashi stares after him, and frowns.

Well, when put like that, Kakashi can’t find it in himself to argue. Nor, he thinks, does he actually want to.

 

 

 

. . .

 

Obito, you done fucked up boi

Chapter Text

It’s embarrassing, but bursting into tears directly after Obito ‘was being mean’ to him was probably the best and fastest way to get the thick headed boy off the path of rivalry with Kakashi, who doesn’t really think he’s up to going back to that. He’s had enough friendly rivalry to last a lifetime, what with Gai, and all. Trying to go back and do the same thing with nine/ten year old Obito, after everything Kakashi’s done, not to mention everything Obito’s done? Or, will do? Would have done ?

Yeah. Crying in front of him was the quickest way to tear down those preconceptions of Kakashi that Obito’s got going on. It’s just not the option Kakashi would have ever chosen willingly.

He’s not one to cry in front of people. He’s not one to cry at all . He’s one to bundle all the shitty feelings up in a tiny box inside and walk around with that box slowly corroding over time and feeding his crippling depression and post-traumatic stress.

Kakashi sits curled up at the very edge of the couch, trying to become one with the arm of it, head tucked down into the ratty pillow he’s hugging to his chest. He needs to get new ones, if this is going to become a regular occurrence. The dust and mites are going to make him sneeze, and with all the crying he’s been doing that wouldn’t be fun at all.

Obito’s kneeling right in front of him, trying to peer in at his face with a great big… it’s not a scowl. It’s a frown, sure, the one that pulls his eyebrows up the tiniest bit, full of concern, and it’s not a look Kakashi’s ever seen directed at him in his life.

Once, maybe. Once, on the bridge mission, before everything had gone to shit. Obito  returned from a quiet talk with Minato-sensei before the man had left for the front lines, and had been uncharacteristically silent, staring occasionally at Kakashi with the very same look that he wears now, though then it had quickly transformed back into the angry glare should he think Kakashi were looking at him.

Kakashi never found out what they’d talked about that night. He has some guesses, but nothing ever confirmed. He’ll never know now.

The look Obito’s shooting him right now, it’s just slightly different. It’s a bit softer, though that may just be because of the lack of the hard lines that war puts on the faces of everyone who enters into it.

It’s a startling contrast to everything Kakashi’s ever known—or rather, personally experienced—about his once-and-again teammate, though. He’d been under the impression that Uchiha Obito’s was one for holding grudges far past any expiration date, and running into him again after all those years had only reaffirmed that notion. This, however...

“Hey,” Obito tells him in what’s probably the quietest voice that’s ever passed through his lips in his life, “I have some tea for you…. Orochimaru-dono said it would make you feel better?”

He’s holding a mug in his hands. Kakashi recognizes it as the same one Orochimaru’s always serving him The Tea in. The very sight of it causes a faint memory of warmth to erupt within Kakashi’s chest like some sort of Pavlovian response. Kakashi stares at Obito from under his lashes. He blinks slowly, and doesn’t move.

He has no idea what he’s suppose to say to this boy. He has no idea how he’s suppose to act. Every emotion within Kakashi concerning Uchiha Obito is severely conflicted, and whenever he gives the token attempt of trying to sort them all out, they leave his head swimming dizzily with confusion and torment and hysteria.

Obito watches him for a moment, before he presses out a big sigh and adjusts his position so that he’s sitting lotus instead of kneeling on the floor. He sets the tea cup to the side, and his entire posture slouches like he’s got the entire weight of the world on his shoulders and then some.

“I’m sorry,” he murmurs miserably.

“What?” Kakashi doesn’t mean for it to come out quite so sharply, but he’s just so surprised he can’t censor his tone.

Obito flinches. His head ticks up from where it had bowed so he can look Kakashi in the eyes. “I—I’m sorry. For what I said. It wasn’t… I didn’t mean it like that. I didn’t mean it like what you’re probably thinking.”

What am I probably thinking ? Kakashi wants to ask, but he’s having too much trouble getting words past his throat.

Obito hurries on, “I mean, I was being a jerk, and you obviously don’t have to forgive me, I’m totally not asking for that, but I just wanted you to know—“

“No,” Kakashi interrupts numbly, and then almost stumbles over his own tongue to continue when Obito’s entire body slumps dejectedly, “No, I mean, that’s not— I’m just… surprised.”

The older boy glances up at him from the corner of his eye, still bent over himself. “... Surprised?”

“Nobody’s ever apologized to me, for anything, ever,” Kakashi tells him, and realizes that it’s actually true. Maybe it was one of those unspoken rules in life—of you ever wrong a Hatake, you don’t verbalize your regret over it afterwards, you just go on like nothing happened and hope it all smoothes itself over.

Kakashi rubs absently at his chest, heart buried beneath a thousand suffered insults, intentional or not, and feels just that much worse. It never smoothes itself over, he knows. He’d just spent so long also pretending it does that he isn’t sure how else to deal with it.

There’s a few blinks, maybe Obito’s got something in his eye? It would explain the rather blank look on the boy’s face.

“You…” the Uchiha attempts to begin a sentence, but then trails off into an odd sort of silence and gives a slow shake of his head. Kakashi isn’t sure whether the movement is to clear his own mind or deny Kakashi’s observation entirely. He’s staring down at his crossed legs with a weird melancholy expression that doesn’t look right on his face.

Kakashi eases himself up from the pillow, inching forward a few centimeters in order to glance down at the floor beside Obito as if to double check that The Tea the boy has brought over to him as an offering is in fact still present. He can smell it wafting up at him. It makes the icicles digging into his insides throb painfully in a distantly numb sort of way that makes Kakashi want to curl into a ball again and whimper like a kicked mutt.

Obito catches his searching look and dives for the subject change like a man dying of thirst. He grabs for the cup and carefully holds it aloft toward Kakashi and the couch as if he’s offering up a sacrifice to a displeased god.

“Here! You look sort of… pale? Paler . Than usual, I mean. And this is supposed to make you feel better, apparently, at least that’s what Orochimaru-dono said when was making it, except he sounded a little stiff. I think I was annoying him by asking so many questions—plus he seems to like you and I was really horrible to you so that probably pissed him off maybe a little bit—“

“Obito,” Kakashi breathes out, reaching his hands out for the tea. It falls short of the cup that Obito’s holding just the barest millimeter out of his reach, and Kakashi’s arms are beginning to get tired, but he’s not going to give up. This is The Tea. Anything is worth The Tea.

Obito blinks, and then blanches in that over-exaggerated way in which he seems to express every single one of his emotions, and pushes the cup into Kakashi’s waiting (trembling) hand with a bit too much speed. Some sloshes over the rim and splashes across Kakashi’s fingers. It might have burned him, he’s not sure, but judging by the horrified look of minute pure terror that slants across Obito’s face as they both watch it happen, it seems like it does. The Uchiha glances quickly toward the kitchen with a harried look upon his face, teeth bared in a grimace, as if expecting the hounds of Hell to descend upon him in retribution for his accidental slight.

It doesn’t feel like it’s burning Kakashi, though. Instead, it feels nice. Like the feeling of coming inside after hours spent lost in a blizzard you weren’t prepared for and immediately hoping into a steaming bath. A nice sort of almost-burn, as if it’s simmering you like a vegetable over the stove, but you’re too numb to feel it yet, so you’re just relieved instead of in pain.

Kakashi is aware that switching extreme temperatures so quickly is decidedly not how one handles frostbite, and in fact is exactly how one aggravates frostbite, but Kakashi doesn’t… have frostbite. Right? He’s pretty sure he doesn’t have frostbite. At least, he’s more uncertain as to where he’d have been able to get frostbite in the last week or two than he is uncertain of his own actual health, so… does that sort of cancel it out?

Kakashi’s eyes shutter, eyes focusing on the rim of the cup he’s holding against his diaphragm, when Obito clears his throat awkwardly.

“Are you…” the raven-haired genin gestures uselessly at Kakashi and The Tea. “Um… are you gonna… drink it, or…?”

“.... Oh,” Kakashi says. Right.

He raises the cup and inhales the scent of heaven itself—always a must, before partaking—and then immediately goes in for a deep gulp of the still-scalding liquid. He sits still for a moment, letting the warmth work its way down into his core, and then leans back into the cushions with a content sigh.  

“Um,” Obito says.

Kakashi opens one eye—his left one—to look at the boy, only to find him staring at him with wide coal eyes.

Obito points a questioning finger at him. “Have you always done that?”

“Done what?”

“Just, drink through your mask?” Obito affirms, incredulousness creeping into his voice.

Kakashi reaches a hand up to his face, only to come in contact with cloth instead of skin.

He blinks. “... Oh.”

‘Oh ’?” Obito repeats, and the look he’s giving Kakashi right now is not one Kakashi appreciates. “What, did you forget it was there, or something?”

“Or something,” Kakashi echoes vaguely, refusing to tell Obito that the boy is correct. Not only is Kakashi not feeling up to making anything easy for his pre-Madara’ed Uchiha teammate (it’s that latent spiteful part of Kakashi’s soul, that rests just below the surface during every interaction with other people, ready to strike if Kakashi would just allow it to), but it’s also embarrassing, so. Yeah, nah.

Obito’s face morphs into one that tells Kakashi the other boy isn’t quite sure he’s willing to believe Kakashi’s answer, but Kakashi steamrolls right over any additional interrogation by bringing his cup up to his mouth to take another big gulp through the mask.

“Y—You did it on purpose this time!” Obito yelps, pointing another finger at Kakashi, this time in an accusing fashion. Obito points fingers a lot, Kakashi is finding. He’s a pointer .

At least he’s back to his usual loud self. The quiet was making Kakashi paranoid.

“Yeah,” the time-traveler agrees, and takes another drink. The way the tea filters through the cloth causes some of the liquid to dribbled down before it can get past it and into Kakashi’s mouth, so he can feel it sit in the material against his chin and upper neck.

It only spreads the heat further, and now Kakashi’s mask will smell like The Tea, so really it’s a win-win.

Unfortunately, Minato-sensei makes him go get changed when he finds out about it, which is about a minute later because Obito almost instantly hops up and scampers into the kitchen to go and report Kakashi’s apparently ‘weird’ antics to their teacher, like the scummy little tattletale he is. Kakashi treats the boy with a narrow-eyed look, pretty sure he’s not going to be willing to speak to the boy for the rest of the night. Or however long Obito ends up staying. Hopefully not long.

 

“You’re absolutely covered,” Orochimaru comments idly, pinching a part of Kakashi’s shirt and holding it away from his skin. Kakashi hadn’t realized he’d spilt about half of the cup all over himself, but now that the snake sannin is helping him into a cleaner shirt that’s actually dry, he can see exactly how soaked the one he’s been wearing actually is.

He can’t help it when his shoulders slump. “Sorry,” he says quietly, unable to keep the apology from passing his lips either.

“Why?”

“Half The Tea was wasted,” Kakashi sighs out mournfully.

Orochimaru pauses from where he’s picking the sopping shirt up from the ground, and raises an amused brow at him.

“....Are you apologizing to me or yourself?” He eventually asks, curiosity coloring his tone.

Kakashi watches him step across the hall to toss the shirt into the bathroom sink before returning. “Both?”

Orochimaru only shakes his head. The man holds the back of his hand to Kakashi’s forehead, and then frowns and reaches out to grab one of Kakashi’s (super tiny little) hands. He presses it in between his for a moment, and then tsks softly.

Kakashi leaves his bedroom wearing a thick sweatshirt of dubious origin and a pair of sweatpants that have probably seen one too many training sessions, judging by the number of holes and tears that are sewn shut—with thread and patches that doesn’t match the color of the pants in the first place. If Sakura had known of Kakashi’s younger self’s lack of care toward his own wardrobe, she’d have killed him with a single punch to the weakest part of the cranium.

Kakashi climbs back up onto the couch, right next to where Minato currently sits, and burrows straight into the man’s side. It causes the blonde to jump, startled—again, completely unacceptable for a ninja of his rank, and Kakashi mentally reaffirms his plans to fix that bad habit—and lift his arm to gaze underneath it at Kakashi.

“Kakash—“

“M’cold,” Kakashi informs him, voice muffled. “You’re not.”

Minato blinks down at him rather dumbly.

Orochimaru sits himself on the other cushion, since Kakashi has squished himself entirely into Minato’s and left plenty of room for another person to occupy.

“It’s almost as if he isn’t producing enough of his own body heat anymore,” the snake sannin murmurs curiously, golden eyes boring into Kakashi. Kakashi can practically feel the man’s stare on his back. Orochimaru sits in a manner that Kakashi wouldn’t have pegged the man for. In all else, the sannin is all graceful, fluid motions and straight spine and cold lines. When he sits, though, he reclines in a way that reminds Kakashi of the great tigers that lounge within the Forest of Death. Leg crossed over the other, back pressed against the cushions, elbow planted onto the arm rest and the other arm flung carelessly across the back of the couch, everything screaming not a care in the world to anyone who’d look upon him.

“I would say it’s preposterous,” the snake summoner drawls with a wry, saccharine smile, “but we happen to live in a world full of preposterous things.”

“Will he be alright?” Rin’s voice asks worriedly, coming from a ways to the right. They must have dragged kitchen chairs out into the sitting room. Kakashi might have to splurge and get some additional seating, if this is to become a regular occurrence. Wild.

Orochimaru doesn’t say anything for a long moment. Long enough for Obito to speak up from somewhere on the left.

“What do you mean he’s not making body heat? Isn’t that what blood does? Are you saying his blood isn’t running anymore? But then, wouldn’t he be dead?”

“Not necessarily,” Orochimaru answers, sounding rather certain about it in a way that makes the room fill up with an awkward sort of energy as everyone else attempts to ignore the implications behind that. “Blood does have something to do with it, offhandedly, but not nearly as much as you seem to assume. Most of the heat in a human body is generated within the mitochondria.”

“The powerhouse of the cell,” Rin and Obito recite in unison purely out of some leftover habit from the academy, and the dead voices in which they say it makes it sound like some sort of chant to a ominous ritual.

Orochimaru and Minato both chuckle at that. Kakashi’s too busy having flashbacks of when he’d actually been in the Academy himself to feel anything other than similarly dead.

“Yes. It controls a person’s metabolism by regulating intracellular energy production.”

“Metabolism is for food though?”

“The metabolism of a cell means the energy production that occurs within them,” Orochimaru corrects Obito serenely.

Kakashi is suddenly struck by the thought that the sannin would make a fantastic mentor, and teacher in—well, any subject, really. If Konoha’s shinobi academy were under Orochimaru’s direction, Kakashi is near absolutely certain it would produce more exemplary ninja than the general cannon fodder Kakashi had come to expect from it in the future.

The village—no, the world could have been so different simply because of one change.

Kakashi presses himself even further into Minato-sensei’s side, mind caught up in the contemplation of such a mind-blowing realization that he nearly misses the rest of the conversation.

“The mitochondria is special because of the way that it ties in with our chakra pathways. Humans are endothermic, and rely on controlled heat production and dissipation to regulate the body’s internal temperature and keep it within a stable margin. The way that our physical chakra is generated and dispersed from within the the nodes of our chakra pathways works in such a similar way to the mitochondria that, when something is wrong with one of these functions, it does tend to affect the other in a similarly adverse way.”

“So he’s broken,” Obito states, and Kakashi peeks out from under Minato’s arm in time to see him cringe away from the sharp looks both adults cast him.

“Of course not,” Orochimaru replies, a sort of humorously stern edge to his voice. “Our bodies malfunction all the time. They’re on the knife's edge of functional on a good day, and any number of maladies will occur should they teeter in any sort of direction.”

“Oh,” Obito both sounds and looks more chastised than Kakashi’s ever seen him in any life. “And… what causes them to… teeter?”

Orochimaru blinks. “It could be anything, in all honesty. The human body is both one of the most durable fortresses and the weakest defense at the same time. It’s quite the contrary subject to study, especially when you bring chakra and its effects into the equation.”

“So we don’t know what wrong with Kakashi,” Rin summarizes, poking her fingers together. It makes the strings that entomb them unravel slightly.

“No,” Orochimaru says rather flatly, and doesn’t sound happy about it. The fact that he doesn’t seem to have an answer apparently ruffles his feathers a bit.

Minato reaches his arm down to somehow give Kakashi’s head a few fond pets, like he’s a dog or something. He’s not about to admit that it actually feels nice, to anyone, ever.

“It’s getting about dinner time,” his sensei comments, causing Kakashi to do a mental doubletake. Hadn’t they just had lunch? “Do you think you’ll be able to keep something down?”

There’s a quiet pause while they wait for Kakashi to gather up all his scrambled thoughts, and he spends a good few moments reeling at the fact that more time had passed without him knowing. He hadn’t been hungry until his teacher had said anything, but now his stomach is pinching in a way that feels almost painful, hungry and putting him off his appetite all at once.

“I think so,” he says uneasily. He might be able to eat, but there’s also the chance it’ll come back up soon after. The way his stomach executes a somersault makes Kakashi a bit uncertain. It could really go either way.

“I’ll get something simple and bland going, just in case,” Orochimaru comments, rising from the couch. He raises a brow at the two genin sitting stiffly in wooden chairs across the coffee table from them. “Are you two going to be staying to eat as well?”

Obito ducks his head in a sheepish fashion. “Yes, Orochimaru-dono.” He says, and Orochimaru blinks at down at him in a slow way that Kakashi for some reason knows means he’s been a bit surprised by something.

“Oh!” Rin startles. “Um, it is kind of late, isn't it? I should actually head back home, I didn’t tell my dad I’d be out after dark or anything, so he’ll worry.”

“I’ll walk you back,” Minato says, giving Kakashi’s back a good rub as if to apologize for having to get up soon and leave him cold again. Kakashi nuzzles his face into the man’s side in response.

“I’ll be back for dinner though,” the blond says after Orochimaru, who’s already walking away. “I just need to take care of a few things at home first.”

Orochimaru waves a hand in acknowledgement, not even looking over his shoulder.

 

“You’re very respectful to him,” Kakashi comments once Orochimaru is back in the kitchen, unable to keep a faint hint of wonder from coating his words.

Obito blinks over at him, and then a weight pulls his brows together and he bounces up in his seat. “Uh, of course I am! Orochimaru-dono is a legendary hero of the village! He’s won tons of battles and defeated lots of Konoha’s enemies without even breaking a sweat! We’ve won one war already because of him and the other sannin, and were only doing so well with this one because we still have Orochimaru-dono. If we didn’t…” Obito glances up toward the ceiling with the tiniest of thoughtful glances, barely pausing before he says without hesitation, “we’d be in serious trouble. Konoha is safe because of great shinobi like Orochimaru-dono. That deserves all the respect, ever .”

The Uchiha nods his head decisively, as if to say ‘ and that’s that! ’ He crosses his arms over his chest to further prove his point, a stubborn set to his jaw and a scowl on his face.

The entire apartment is thunderously silent in the wake of the Uchiha’s small rant. Obito is breathing a little heavily when he sits down, having stood up sometimes in the midst of speaking. He’s a loud kid, and Kakashi can still hear his words ringing in his ears, because they are both true and anything but the quiet he’d been going for when he’d made his observation.

He doesn’t glance toward the kitchen, but he can feel it in the ambient chakra in the air. It’s completely still in there, like nobody is moving. It’s still in the living room too. Minato-sensei looks like Obito has just whacked him over the head with a particularly dense book, and Rin is staring down at the strings interlaced between her fingers as if they hold all the answers for any question she could ever have.

Kakashi looks back at Obito. His shoulders are somewhere up by his ears, his chin is jutted out, and he looks ready to throw down with anyone who might argue his points. He looks ready, like he’s expecting protests, like he’s received them before, like he’s fought people in this topic too many times to count already. On that thought, the rant had sounded almost rehearsed, as if Obito’s said it before, to anyone who would listen. Kakashi isn’t going to fool himself and think that anyone ever had .

Kakashi isn’t sure what it is, but something that’s been pressing painfully into his posture lightens up just a smidge, and it’s suddenly just barely easier to breath. The apartment air is stale, but the breath tastes like a small victory anyway.

“Yeah,” Kakashi says quietly, giving a little bob of his head. He lets himself fall back into the cushion behind him like a marionette whose string’s have been cut, trying his best to ignore the startled look Obito is shooting him for his easy agreement.

He eventually does glance over at the boy, when a minute passes by and everyone’s still rather speechless, and looks Obito over with a long, examining glance. “Okay,” he eventually decided. “I guess you can stay.”

The boy splutters. “Wh—What’s that suppose to mean?! I wasn’t gonna leave in the first place!”

Kakashi hadn’t really been expecting this reply, and for some reason the words make his eyes sting. He stares over at Obito with a startled look, unable to speak past the sudden limp in his throat.

“Oh…” he faintly hears himself say, voice thick with some unnamable emotion. “Okay.”

Obito eyes him with an odd look in his eyes, that’s strangely soft in a way that Kakashi really doesn’t want to think about right now, so the Hatake turns his head into the back of the couch and presses his face into it.

“Well,” Minato says, voice quiet. “That’s a perspective that I think should be shared amongst the village in its entirety.”

“But it’s not ,” Obito says tightly, and Kakashi didn’t even have to look at him to see the scowl scrunching his whole face up.

“I know,” Minato-sensei replies, still quietly. “But it should be.”

None of them really have a response to that. Yes, their village is broken. Yes, the villagers are ungrateful on a good day and downright greedy otherwise. Spoilt, even. Yes, the tree that houses Konoha’s inhabitants is rotted to the center. But, even though they all know these things, it’s not something they like to purposefully think about or spend time pondering. It’s exhausting. Living amongst the rot leaves something that just leeches the energy to fight right out of people.

It’s pathetic and sad to admit, but the broken and corrupt foundations of society aren’t easily tackled by one or even a group of people, powerful ninja or otherwise. There is just too much to do, too much to fix, while everyone is already so tired over it all. Every second left thinking about it makes one only feel more and more hopeless.

Kakashi feels hopeless, about everything , maybe that’s it. For all that he’s been given a second chance, he’s got absolutely no idea what to do with it. He doesn’t even know where to begin . There’s just… too much, for one person. And not just that, but a broken person. Obito was right. Kakashi is broken, and he doesn’t even know how to fix that , much less the future and the world and everyone in it.

He’ll fail. He’s going to fail, and Kakashi sits on the couch with his face buried in the cushions and listens to Rin and Minato-sensei leave the apartment in uneasy silence, listens to the door close on the uncomfortable air vibrating between him and Obito, listens to the slow clinking of pans on the gas stove in the kitchen, and… not quite despairs , because things are surprisingly okay, right now. But what about later?

Kakashi doesn’t know. That’s what scares him the most.

 

Obito bites his lip, making a big show of looking from toward the door to the kitchen and then to the couch with a rather poleaxed expression on his face, as if he couldn’t believe he’d just been up and abandoned to Kakashi by everyone. Which is absurd, because it’s Kakashi’s apartment—who does Obito think is going to be here?

Kakashi. Kakashi is going to be here. Here in this very spot, in fact. Kakashi is going to sit on this couch and never move again except to intake The Tea, and maybe eat food if it’s absolutely necessary. He’s finally found a position where not every nerve ending is screaming at him in protest. It’s a little uncomfortable and most definitely not a good way for his spine to be twisted, but Less Painful far outweighs How Comfy in this situation. Maybe any situation.

Or, perhaps, Less Pain is Comfy, in and of itself? Food for thought.

Obito seems to have finished rebooting himself, in any case, and edges forward a little bit to sit on the very edge of the couch cushion Orochimaru had vacated, furthest away from Kakashi’s crumpled form as he could be. He’s staring at Kakashi with an unreadable expression that looks faintly of morbid fascination and something else that Kakashi isn’t sure has a name, and twists the gem of his shirt in his hands so tightly Kakashi thinks it might as well rip the fabric.

Kakashi presses his lips together, looking away from the boy. He reaches up to flip the hood of the sweatshirt he’s wearing over his head to better ignore him, and then sits up with a speed that leaves him to sway a bit, slightly dizzy. His eyes are wide and he stares at the far wall with a distant look in his eyes.

Obito jumps, narrowing his eyes at at him. “... What?”

Kakashi doesn’t even look at him. He pulls down the hood, and then flips it back up again, repeating the action perhaps two more times before a soft sound of realization escapes his lips.

What ,” Obito asks again, looking an odd mix of irritated and worried.

“My ears and neck,” Kakashi says softly, eyes locked on a blank spot on the wall, “are warmer ... when I put the hood up.”

“Uh, yeah,” Obito says, a note of ‘ I’m beginning to think you’re a bit of an idiot, maybe ’ carried in his voice. “That’s, um, kind of how hoods work?”

Kakashi turns his stare on him. “What?”

Obito just stares back. “Um,” is all he says, shaking his head slowly at Kakashi like that’ll make the work make sense again.

The two preteens (inwardly, Kakashi shudders, and feels hysteria begin to climb in his throat) sit there in a rather awkward silence that stretches on until Minato-sensei comes barreling through the door, looking somewhat harried with a wild look in his eyes.

“Sensei,” Obito greets, warily.

“What the fuck,” Kakashi adds, and the Uchiha turns to gape at him.

Minato does to, eyes wide. “K-Kakashi?”

“Why do you look like that,” the Hatake asks him seriously.

He’s about to reply—he needs a moment first, clearly, to gather his wits—when Orochimaru steps out of the kitchen, crosses his arms, and raises an eyebrow all in one fluid motion, regarding the group of them like one would a bug on the ground.

“Food,” he says, and comes over to snag Kakashi by the hood and drag him into the kitchen before anyone can say anything else.

His stomach lurches dangerously, but settles as soon as he’s plopped down into a chair, so Kakashi reaches for the soup spoon set to the side of his plate with a quietly mulish expression and says his thanks before using it to dig out a large bite of congee and stick it in his face before he can doing anything similarly damning and ill advised, like curse at his sensei again. Really, what seven year old says fuck? Apparently, Kakashi. Whoops.

Minato entered the kitchen with a silent, ghostly Obito trailing behind him, both of them looking like that’d just witnessed something particularly traumatizing and were struggling to come to terms with it. They sit down without a word and stare at the porridge in their bowls with symptoms akin to shock.

Orochimaru takes his seat, eyes them all with contempt, and proceeds to ignore everything but the food in front of him.

It being a valid course of action, Kakashi follows suit, and doesn’t really hear anything else that night aside from the scoff Orochimaru makes as he kicks Obito and Minato out of the apartment after the meal and hustles Kakashi to bed.

Chapter Text

“I’m telling you, sensei,” Obito hisses over a bowl of ramen the next day, regarding the menma with rather more suspicion than Minato thinks it deserves. “There’s something wrong with him!”

“Yes,” the blond jounin replies tiredly, rubbing at the bridge of his nose. “I do believe we’d all covered that already, Obito.”

Obito waves his chopsticks around in the air to gesticulate his frustration with Minato’s probably now repetitive answers—this is a conversation they’d been having all afternoon, and it’s been going in circles the entire time. Minato feels the beginnings of the frustration that wrestles with his young Uchiha student’s spine in himself.

“I mean, other than—than what’s obviously wrong. Like, I know he’s sick. He’s obviously super sick, I’ve got no idea how he’s not one hundred percent comatose right now—“

“As opposed to fifty percent?” Minato mumbles under his breath, and gets a mirthful grin from the ramen stall owner, who probably hears all the shinobi gossip in the village by now. Poor man. Minato’s totally jealous of him.

Obito soldiers on, probably not having heard him at all. “—with the way he’s acting he probably feels horrible , and like—in Bakashi terms, horrible for him is like how completely life threateningly devastating is for a normal person, and that’s, like, really bad , sensei!”

“Obito,” Minato sighs, exasperating tinging his words. “Regardless of what you think, Kakashi is a normal person.”

Obito spins around on his stool to squint at him, like he’s looking for the punchline of the joke, and Minato holds up his hands in surrender, shaking his head without a single clue as to how to… to… fix? His student’s unerringly staunch faith in his teammate’s levels of fortitude? For all that Obito acts like he despises the very ground Hatake Kakashi trods upon, he holds the younger boy to incredibly high standards. Or rather, Kakashi is the standard Obito thinks—knowingly or not—that everyone else should hold themselves to.

Which, Minato ponders worriedly, is quite dangerous for both boys. He’s tried nipping the altogether odd dependency in the bud, so many times, but nothing he’s tried has worked. He’s tried talking to Obito. He’s tried suggesting things to Kakashi to perhaps help Obito along to the realization that his silver-haired teammate is not, in fact, some sort of demigod—hell, he’s even tried having Rin help! Multiple times, in fact, and it’s gotten to the point where Rin’s In On It—‘it’ being the ongoing scheme of trying to repeatedly smack Uchiha Obito over the head with the fact that Hatake Kakashi isn’t actually indestructible.

It was slow going. Obito just doesn’t seem to be able to wrap his mind around the idea. It just doesn’t seem to click .

Even after yesterday’s display. Kakashi is having a hard time of things, and every time Minato’s thoughts stray to his youngest student, his heart constricts in a fit of worry. He’s trying his best to help Kakashi out, make him as comfortable as he can be in spite of the obvious pain he’s suffering—they all are. It’s discouraging, however, to notice that no matter how many blankets they pile on the little chunin, his skin is still several shades too pale, the crease between his brows still too deep, the shivers that wrack his form still too consistent. He’s such a champ, acting like nothing’s wrong as much as he can, but… it shows. It shows so much a blind man could see it.

Obito, though. Minato isn’t sure whether the boy is in complete denial, or holding on to the hope that Kakashi is going to come out on top, beat this sickness back and be right as rain again come the next day, like how the boy treats a difficult jutsu in training, keeping at it until he overcomes it. It’s Kakashi’s stubborn tenacity that Obito admires, Minato thinks, but perhaps Obito has come to expect it as the default and not just Kakashi’s response to the obstacles in his career.

Minato had hoped so, too, in the beginning, that Kakashi’s stubbornness would pull him through whatever this was. His hope is beginning to fade with each passing day. Whatever is going on with Kakashi, it’s not something that can be cured so easily.

Three more days, Minato promises himself. And then he’s dragging Kakashi to the hospital no matter what the boy says. And no amount of puppy dog eyes will help him (Minato had no idea before now that Kakashi could pull of a look so devastating, but given his summoning contract and his clan characteristics, he really should have guessed).

“I just,” Obito waves his arms frantically around in the air as if the gesticulation will help get his point across—whatever the point may be. “He’s obviously horribly , horrendously ill , so like… where the doctor, sensei? Why isn’t he at the hospital?”

Minato points a chopstick at the boy, not looking up from his own bowl. “Why aren’t you at the hospital?”

“Uh, because I’m not the one that’s sick?” Obito squints at him.

“Maybe not sick,” the blond jounin acquiesces, “but you’re not one-hundred percent either, right?”  

Obito stares at him, and Minato glances over long enough to see the panic the boy is trying to push down and hide behind an innocent mask. “I don’t know what you mean, man.”

“Sensei,” Minato corrects blaisely, eyebrow raising. He watches Obito lick his lips nervously and sighs. “I can’t believe your trying to—Obito, I saw that tumble you took in training. You have a concussion, don’t you.”

“No, of course not,” Obito denies immediately, grabbing his bowl of ramen and downing the dredges of it in one quick gulp before slamming the dish on the table with more force than necessary. He raises a hand to Teuchi-san and requests another order before continuing on, rapidly, “I honestly have no clue what you mean—have you met a Uchiha before in your entire life? Do you know how thick our heads are? It’s like they’re full of rocks instead of bra—no, wait, that’s an insult, I don’t mean that, but also, it could be true now that you think about it, because they’re all mostly insanely smart, but what do they do with all that smartness, huh? Means it must be rocks. Am I right? I’m obviously right—are you gonna finish that, sensei, or can I,” Obito switches tracks, eyes zeroing in on Minato’s half-finished bowl despite the fact that he had a second order coming up in a minute or so. The boy reaches out for the bowl and gives Minato a bequestent look.

“I like the way you think!” A voice chimes in, and Minato is assaulted by a strong force from behind with only that as a warning, arms coming around to catch him in a stranglehold.

He chokes, arms flailing as he’s almost dragged off the stool to his death. “Wah!”

“Hey, Kushina-san,” Obito greets with a mixture of happiness and relief. He doesn’t look the least bit alarmed or seem to have any intention on giving Minato a hand despite how his loving sensei was being suffocated right in front of him. How cold!

Nee-chan, Obito-kun, it’s not that hard,” Kushina says, voice an decibel or two higher than the average person would normally speak at, as always. She’s got what Minato calls a theatre voice.

A whack gets Minato right in the ear, and he winces, lifting a hand to rub at it. “Kushin—“

“Haven’t seen you in like a month and I don’t even get a hug back,” the redhead huffs, finally releasing him to sweet, sweet oxygen and hopping up onto the stool next to him. “Oi, Teuchi! Three bowls of the house special!”

“Four, for my best customer,” the stall owner calls back cheerily, holding up as many fingers. “Think if it as a welcome back gift!”

“I knew I loved you for a reason!” Kushina crows, fist flying into the air in a victory pose. “Marry me, man!”

Minato groans and slumps forward until his forehead hits the wooden surface of the bar table. Obito is snickering beside him, and he blindly casts out a hand to smack the kid in the arm.

“Ow, sensei!”

Teuchi-san sounds almost genuinely sorrowful when he replies, “Unfortunately, Uzumaki-san, I must reject your proposal. I am promised to another.”

“Nooooo,” Kushina moans, and Minato turns his head to watch her clasp her hands to her chest dramatically. “How could the universe be so cruel? It’s not fair, you know!”

“My condolences,” Teuchi-san is perfectly regretful as he sets a pan of noodles to sizzle over an open flame, and Minato is just seconds away from rolling his eyes at the two of them.

Thankfully, Kushina seems content to leave it at that, because she turns back to him and socks him in the shoulder. Maybe it’s suppose to be a friendly greeting kind of punch, but—well, Kushina often forgets her own strength when she was excited, so Minato was used to having sore upper arms by this point. The last month has been a reprieve. But, hey, at least it means she’s happy to see him, right? That’s a win, isn’t it?

“So, how have things been?” She asks, leaning forward onto her elbows. “You hold the fort while I was gone?”

Minato finally sits up, but before he can answer, Kushina leans forward even further and strains her neck to peer around him at Obito instead. “Obito-kun, did he hold the fort?”

“Fort’s still standing,” Obito agrees cheekily, and Minato gives a loud, long-suffering sigh.

“I can hold forts just fine!” He argues, and then pauses, casting his girlfriend an uneasy look, and adds on a bit quieter, “But, yeah. Barely.”

Kushina turns serious like some sort of switch has been hit. She squares her jaw and levels him with a steely state. “What happened?”

Minato shakes his head. “It’s… well. Kakashi’s sick. It’s pretty bad.”

Kushina bites her lip worriedly, the bravado from earlier gone when faced with concern for someone she cares about. “How bad, though? Like, hospital-bad?”

“I’m thinking… yeah.”

Kushina pauses, and then squints at him. Minato is starting to think this is where Obito picked it up from. “Waiiit a sec… what have you been doing for—what are his symptoms?”

Minato blinks at her, and then begins to tick off his fingers, “Uh, nausea, vomiting, fever… um—oh, yeah, he’s passed out a few times, and I think he has dizzy spells…. What else….”

Kushina stares at him in horror, and Minato winces. Yeah. It’s pretty much as bad as it sounds. Actually, it’s worse. He doesn’t think he can convey just how worrying Kakashi’s condition is with words. It was the sort of thing you just had to see for yourself—if not because otherwise you wouldn’t believe it. It was Kakashi , after all.

“And what have you been doing to treat all this?” Kushina asks, faintly, and Minato winces again.

“He’s been sleeping a lot, which I think is helping. We’ve been trying to get food into him when he’s awake—that’s usually a hit or miss, but Orochimaru is pretty good at convincing him to—“

“Orochimaru?”

“Oh, uh—yeah,” Minato realizes Kushina hadn’t exactly been there to witness that development. “Uh, Kakashi found him in the graveyard outside his apartment and Orochimaru brought him back and made him lunch.”

Kushina stares at him.

“He’s been making him this tea,” Minato offers weakly. “Kakashi really loves it... I think it makes him feel better.”

Teuchi quietly places a bowl in front of Kushina before heading back to grab the other three. Kushina doesn’t seem to notice it for a moment.

“Okay,” she says slowly, at last. “So, rest, food, keeping him hydrated… that’s good, yanno. What else?”

“I got him to take a bath the other day—“

“In that bathtub?!” Kushina gapes at him, aghast, “ Minato —!”

“I cleaned it!” He helps, hands flying up to block defensively in front of himself. “Ruined a uniform in the process, even, but it was cleaner than a T&I lab before I let him into that room, I swear!

“What did you use.”

“Huh?”

“Ruined your uniform how .”

“... Listen, it wasn’t my fault that Kakashi only had bleach, I didn’t have enough time to go shopping for vine—Ow! Kushina!”

“I’m just gonna go,” Obito calls to them, amusement clear across his face. Minato will wipe that look away come next training session. “Sensei, you’ll pay for me, right—“

“Not with that concussion you’re not,” Minato growls, and finds pleasure in the way the amusement swaps for horror faster than he can blink.

“Oh my god,” Kushina says darkly, hand still fisted in Minato’s hair. He winces as her grip tightens. “All your kids are falling apart —How’s Rin-chan?! Is she okay? Please tell me she’s okay— Kamisama , I was only gone for a month —“

Minato muffles the whine that wants to escape his mouth.

“Teuchi! Make these orders to go, pretty please! I’ve got some place to be, all of a sudden!”

“As you wish, Uzumaki-san!”

“Ah! What a charmer!” 

This time, Minato does roll his eyes. 

Chapter Text

Orochimaru should open a restaurant.

That’s something Kakashi’s been thinking about ever since he took that first bite of miso a few days ago (has it only been days? It feels like he’s been back in this body so much longer than that). Every single thing he’s eaten since waking up that first time has been absolutely delicious. Rin’s eggplant stir-fry had been great, too, but it didn’t hold a candle to anything that came from Orochimaru’s hands. Kakashi’s too tactful to actually say such a thing out loud, though. At least, he’s like to think he is.

Hell, even the stale peanut butter sandwiches, though they had just been old bread ends with the dredges of the jar smooshed between them, had tasted way better than Kakashi thought they had any right to. Although, perhaps that had just been because he’d been actually starving at the time—seriously, did his younger self actually eat at all, ever?

Kakashi thinks back on his childhood, trying very hard to remember, but can’t summon up much memory of the time that concerned his own eating habits. It had just been training, training, rivalry, training, ignore trauma, training.

So, no. Probably not.

Maybe that’s why Kakashi’s current body is so tiny. He’s shocked he’d managed to grow into an actual healthy size as an adult, and then realizes that could be attributed to his own father’s looming height. Sakumo had been a giant, though it wasn’t noted at first glance as the man’s posture had been horrendous—yet another bad habit he’d inherited from his dear old dad.

“Can you stomach any more?” Orochimaru asks, legs crossed and leaning back with one arm thrown over the back of the chair across the table. He cocks his head to the side and watches Kakashi with an examining look.

Kakashi glances down at his still half full plate of rice porridge, realizing he’d stopped eating sometime in the duration of his thoughts. He really can only do one thing at a time, can’t he?

Unfortunately, now that they’re on the subject, he also realizes he’s definitely full, which is a crying shame because the food is absolutely delicious and Kakashi would love to eat more—but at the same time he can physically feel his face turn green at the thought of another bite.

Kami, but being sick is the worst . He’s hungry, but he’s not hungry? What a wonderful world.

“No,” he sighs out regretfully.

A fleetingly amused smile flitters across Orochimaru’s face, as he sets his own chopsticks down. He’d cooked up a plate of katsudon for himself, which Kakashi had sent various looks of envy, but suffered with the knowledge that his stomach wasn’t in any shape to eat any food more complicated than the traditional sick-food. When he feels better, perhaps. If he ever feels better. Kakashi slumps back in his chair and sniffs loudly, quickly followed by a series of wracking coughs. He’s been much more congested, today, than usual, and it sucks.

“Perhaps you should go lie down for a while,” Orochimaru suggests, standing up to fetch Kakashi’s unfinished plate. “I’ll put this in the fridge for later.”

“Okay,” Kakashi agrees—right now there isn’t anything else he rather be doing than lying down. Like, which is better, dying slowly while sitting in a hard wooden chair, or dying slowly while entombed within a heap of warm blankets? The answer is clear.

Orochimaru didn’t say anything else, turning away from the table to go over and deposit Kakashi’s empty tea mug—at least he’d been able to finish that , and no wonder as to why—and spoon into the sink on his way over the the fridge. Kakashi takes that as a dismissal. He heaved himself up off the chair and behind the long, stumbling journey down the hall to the bedroom, all twenty feet feet of it.

 

Kakashi presses the door shut with quiet hands, and doesn’t even have time time to turn when there’s the edge of a kunai held up against his throat. He freezes.

Hands yank him roughly around, and Kakashi peers into the darkness of his bedroom and sees… nothing. The sharp steel bites into the skin of his neck as he tries to move his head for a better visual.

“Dog boy,” a voice snarls near-silently into his ear. It’s suspiciously young. Actually, the hands that hold him are also suspiciously small. Kakashi’s eyes narrow.

He’s shaken none too gently, and metal bites into his skin almost teasingly. It’s familiar, and it would be even more so if the voice didn’t sound so genuinely upset.

“Who the hell do you think you are?”

Kakashi presses his lips together as his eyes finally adjust to the darkness—too slowly, must work on that—and says nothing.

The person scoffs, giving him another shake, oblivious to the way it makes the kunai slice the barest millimeter more into his neck. “You must think you hot stuff, having Orochimaru-sama at your beck and call.”

Kakashi pauses, and his head stops swimmingly long enough for him to jerk back at just the right moment to break free of the choke hold he’s being held in. He rams his elbow backward into soft flesh, and doesn’t ya any mind to the guttural gasp it induces as he scrambles forward a few steps and pivots on his heel to get into a more ready stance. That's about when the black spots come back for his vision, but Kakashi ignores them for now.

“I’m not, really,” he says. His voice has that airy quality it gets when he’s about to pass out at an inopportune moment, shit.

“What?”

“Not hot stuff,” Kakashi elaborates, “I’m freezing, all the time. Like an ice cube.”

His attacker stares at him, nonplussed.

“That’s not—“

“Also, I don’t have Orochimaru at ‘my beck and call,’” he continues, giving the very idea the tone of incredulity it deserves. “He’s just… there, because he wants to be. I can’t actually make him leave.”

The invader doesn’t seem to have an answer for that, so Kakashi poses the question himself.

“Do you really think anyone could ever get Orochimaru to do something that he doesn’t want to do?” He determinedly doesn’t think about the future, because the future doesn’t exist anymore, does it.

The person snorts, loudly, and lets the kunai clatter to the ground. Kakashi slumps against the edge of the bed, eyes fluttering shut with a tired sigh.

“That’s true,” is the concession given.

The door opens seemingly by itself, then—or rather, it was pushed open from the other side without any type of prelude or so much as a by-your-leave. Kakashi and his assailant both jump and spin around to look guiltily at it, as if they’d been doing something wrong—which, yes? Kakashi was almost murdered in his own bedroom by a lunatic? There are many things wrong about that.

Orochimaru stands on the other side in the dimly lit hallway, no light reaching his face but for his eyes, gleaming gold at them from the shadows. He takes a step forward into the better illumination of the room and raises a perfectly manicured brow at the two of them.

“How many times have I told you to use doors when entering, Anko?” He asks.

Kakashi’s attacker juts out her chin, eyes daring. “Whenever you get into a boring mood.”

The sannin purses his lips and actually brought up a hand to pinch the bridge of his nose in agitation. Kakashi watches it happen in wonder. Is the man actually irritated?

Anko takes a small step back, and then hops bodily into Kakashi’s mattress, which is coincidentally exactly where Kakashi himself wants to be. That was his goal when he first entered the room, in fact, before Anko derailed those plans in a spectacular way. He fashions her with a glare.

She sticks her tongue out at him and kicks her feet in the air—they don’t reach the ground when she’s sitting down. Because Anko’s a child—a baby. Kamisama. She’s even younger than Kakashi is, by at least two years, meaning she’d be about five or six right now. Kakashi blinks widely at her and shuffled forward a bit to stare more closely. Her little baby cheeks are so round .

She doesn’t quite notice yet, because she’s turned all her attention back to Orochimaru, and she’s whining at him. Which makes sense, Kakashi supposes, Anko’s always been a certain level of reckless and even more crazy than that.

“You can’t just break into people’s homes and threaten their lives, Anko.” Orochimaru is telling her sternly, arms crossed. Kakashi has come to recognize this position as the one Orochimaru adopts when he feels he’s obligated to scold, but doesn’t actually mean half of it enough for it to matter. He’s saying this like he’s had to say it a thousand times before, which. That’s concerning, a bit. Kakashi feels slighted. He could have died . Baby Anko could have killed him—Kakashi has no doubts that she actually might have, he knows how Anko is—and Orochimaru is standing there three seconds away from giving her that smile, ruffling her hair, and just telling her not to do it again.

Kakashi is offended. That’s not fair.

“Well, why not?” Anko demands, arms crossed in a similar fashion and little baby voice shrill as can be. As opposed to Orochimaru, it’s clear she’s trying to copy his pose, perhaps subconsciously, and doesn’t seem to have realized what Kakashi has about its meaning, because she looks pretty outraged that she’s getting told off over this.

“You can’t break into the houses of allies without permission,” Orochimaru amends gently, setting his shoulders back and slipping his hands to hide in the long sleeves of his tunic. “It’s considered rude.”

“By who?!”

Kakashi waves a hand around the air vaguely, as if gesturing at the apartment and the village that surrounds them, and butts in. “Everyone, basically.”

Anko’s baby head swivels around like an owl’s to pin him with a wide, furious stare, but Kakashi ignores it. He grabs fistfuls of the comforter and uses it to haul himself up onto the bed next to her, vision going hazy at the precipice of the action. He ducks his head down a bit and closes his eyes until the dizziness passes, and when he opens them again he’s lying flat on the mattress with his cheek pressed against Anko’s leg, his head using it as a pillow. He glances up, taking a moment to examine and purposefully ignoring the way she’s staring down at him, and is very distressed to realize that Anko makes for a very tall six year old, and perhaps dwarfs Kakashi by at least an inch. Somehow. He drops his head down and buries it into the dog-print sheets.

It must have been all the take-out his younger self had eaten. Kakashi will eat his vegetables from now on, he swears.

A big hand presses into his back, between Kakashi’s shoulder blades, and pushes him down into the blanket a bit. A weight is removed from the bed, Kakashi feels the mattress bounce up a little at the loss of it, and he peeks open an eye to see the blurry figure of Anko sitting on Orochimaru’s hip as the man straightens up again.

“Kakashi need to take a nap, Anko.” Orochimaru tells her, hefting her up a bit. Her tiny little baby arms reach out to wrap around his neck instantly, like she’s used to this. Kakashi is mortified to feel a sharp, hot spike of jealously nail itself through his chest. “Let’s leave him be. Come to the kitchen, I’ll make you some dango.”

Anko’s big round baby eyes burst into sparkles. They’re too bright. Kakashi squeezes his eyes closed and turns his face back into the mattress. He listens to Anko’s excited child-like blabbering as she’s carried away, the door being shut softly behind them to leave him alone to sleep, and feels a rolling, sick swell of longing for his students well in his chest and up his throat like bile. Naruto, specifically, he misses. Anko acts just like when the blonde jinchuriki had been smaller. Kakashi hold his breath until sports dance before his vision, willing the images of beaming bright smiles and sparkly eyes and whisker marts to go away.

 

When he wakes up, he doesn’t know anything except pure terror for a few long seconds.

There’s an intense, overbearing sort of energy pressing down upon the entire apartment, and it’s so thick and strangling that Kakashi is hardly able to breath. All he can think about is fire .

He must have made a noise of distress—he sure was distressed enough for it, he’s not gonna lie—because the door is swept open and Minato-sensei comes barrelling in to check up on him.

Kakashi doesn’t have any time to wonder why the man is here, Minato’s very appearance, hale and healthy, in the room is enough to jarr Kakashi's completely irrational terror entirely.

“Is everything all right?” The man practically demands once he sees Kakashi sitting up in bed, perfectly safe with no one else in the room. “Kakashi?”

“It’s,” Kakashi opens his mouth to reply, and then his brain goes abruptly blank when he catches the sight of deep, flowing red peeking out from beyond Minato’s shoulder and the door.

“It’s fine,” he croaks, and flops back down onto the bed with perhaps more force than necessary. He turns to lie facedown and uses his trembling hands to bundle the sheets back up over his shoulders, and holds them tightly against his cheeks.

Maybe the blankets will protect him from the universe and all the shit it’s been throwing at him lately.

The bed dips down, and there’s a sigh, and then a hand comes to rest on Kakashi’s back, and Kakashi lets out a whine.

“Oh, Kashi,” a voice that is definitely not Minato-sensei’s, but instead higher and strangely lilting with an accent that reminds Kakashi of Wave Country. “If I’d known you had it this bad I’d have wrapped up my mission much sooner and hurried back, ya know!”

Oh my god,” Kakashi moans quietly into the blankets with mounting horror.

He slowly turns his head to the side to see a face with bright green eyes staring down at him. A thick curtain of russet shields both of them from the world as it cascades down around Kushina’s dramatic pout.

Belatedly, he remembers to say, “Don’t call me that.”

But that’s the one thing he can remember, if only because he spent so much of his life longing for someone to call him that again. There’s a strange, sharp stinging sensation that is curling around Kakashi’s heart. They always did say you don’t know what you have until it’s gone. And Kakashi took Uzumaki Kushina for granted his entire childhood the first time around. Except now, here she is again, like she never left.

He feels a little bit like crying again. The sharp pressure at the corners of his eyes and his upper throat is starting to become familiar and Kakashi hates it.

He feels a bout of coughs rising up from his chest, and rolls his entire body away from her to press his face into the covers again, because he doesn’t want to chance accidentally sneezing all over her—that’d be undeniably gross. Of course, this is the only reason.

“Oof,” Kushina says, rather loudly. “You sound like you’re about to cough up your lungs—good thing for you, I brought some ramen to make you feel better. Chilli garlic sauce included! The best thing for a cold, you know?”

“He’s been severely congested since yesterday,” another voice adds in, coming from the door. Kakashi turns his head just barely to the side, but it’s enough to see Orochimaru standing there, leaning on the frame, arms crossed. Typical stance for the snake sannin. “It’s curious, since it hasn’t exactly been a prevailing symptom until now.”

“Do you think he’s getting worse?” Minato asks, sounding horrified.

Kushina takes advantage of Kakashi’s peek, hand lashing out like lightning to press against his forehead. Kakashi rears back, but fails in escaping the temperature check, his very bones are just too exhausted to move quickly enough on command.

“Double oof,” she mutters, which isn’t exactly quiet in terms of Uzumaki volume. “That’s high. Has the cold compress been working at all to bring this down?”

Kakashi doesn’t quite catch a visual, but he swears that Minato and Orochimaru exchange something of a sheepish look.

Kushina straightens up, removing her hand from his head, and stares at the two men in stunned silence.

“Oh, my god ,” she breaths, and then begins, “if I hadn’t come home you guys would have killed him. He’d be dying right now, you know? I literally cannot believe you two, this—this is child endangerment , it’s neglect —okay, yeah, you’ve been feeding him and making sure he’s clean, but that’s not the end of it, you know?! It takes more than that to take care of a sick kid—who the hell in their right mind thought it was a good idea to leave you numbskulls with the responsibility of a kid—

She goes on for a while, and Kakashi stops paying attention after the two minute mark, mostly because he’s stunned she’d be lecturing Orochimaru of all people, given that he’s pretty sure she’d never really actually met his before this point in time—but then again, this is Kushina. Of course she’d take the snake sannin’s presence and involvement here in stride.

The bed bounces a little, and a form that’s a bit more Kakashi’s size settled down near his head. He glances up to find Anko treating the ranting Uzumaki with an expression of pure awe.

“She’s like a mom ,” the girl whispers to him, any sign of her earlier hostile treatment of him nowhere to be seen.

Kakashi considers this, and then replies, a bit hoarsely, “So’s Orochimaru.”

Kami. He’s not even wrong. Kami.

Anko turns her stare at him, and then cracks a grin. “You’re right,” she says, entire being vibrating with some odd level of excitement.

Who are the two of them to say what a mom is, though. It’s not like either of them have any experience in the matter. Kakashi comforts himself with this.

Sounds like an excuse, a little voice in the back of his mind snickers, and Kakashi replies viciously, shut up.

The harsh thought spurs on another fit of coughs, for some reason, probably the universe acting out of spite. Kakashi wouldn’t put it past it. Anko pats his back, a bit too harshly, like she isn’t sure of her own strength in the face of a weakened ill person. At least she’s trying? Trying to comfort him, or help his sickness kill him faster, though, is the question. It’s a little adorable, either way.

His stomach cramps painfully, and he clutches at it. With the way things have been going lately, he isn’t sure if it’s hunger or something else.

“How long has it been since I fell asleep?”

Anko studies the loud, gesticulating Kushina, hands nearly smacking the men in the room in the face as she rants, and says, “Few hours? You took a nap at, like, nine. It’s two now.”

“In the afternoon?” Kakashi blinks, and Anko levels his with an unimpressed look that clearly states well, duh.

That’s five hours since he last ate half a bowl of porridge, then. And then thirteen hours since he'd eaten before that. So, it’s probably hunger. He doesn’t feel any bile trying to force its way up his throat, so it’s probably hunger. Probably.

Finally, it seems like Orochimaru’s suffered enough scolding for one day—and also had read Kakashi’s mind, because he’s amazingly talented like that—because he takes a step forward, ducks under one of Kushina’s flailing hands—catches the limb by the wrist, and holds it, and finally gives her a characteristically raised brow.

“Instead of lecturing us, perhaps time would be better spent giving him that ramen you promised, before it gets too cold to be of any help?” He asks, dryly.

Kushina freezes, staring at him with wide green eyes, appearing utterly startled. She doesn’t move for a few long moments, caught flat-footed and apparently made speechless.  Finally, she blinks, glances at the hand he’s holding her arm in, and then jerks back with a blush roaring across her face. Minato watches all of this with his jaw hanging wide open.

“O—Of course, I know that! I was—I was just about to do that, ya know!” She bumbles out eloquently.

“Indeed,” Orochimaru agrees with a wry tone, and Kushina’s face burns even hotter.

“I’ll go do that now,” she spits out, giving the amused sannin an abrupt glare, that rapidly melts into a mash up of confusion and embarrassment. She grabs the still wordless Minato by the ear on her way out of he room, scrambling for the kitchen. Orochimaru gives the two children a even smile, before ambling right after them with his signature stalk.

“What the hell,” Anko mutters, staring after the three adults with an odd look on her face. “What was that all about?”

Kakashi stares after them too, and then turns to the girl with a grimace. “Something I don’t wanna think about right now, preferably ever,” he replies. Then he coughs. He coughs again.

Anko raises her eyebrow at him, and Kakashi is now certain she gets all her expressions from her snakely guardian, because this one is on the dot.

“You need some cough syrup?” She asks. “We have some in our cabinet back home, I could run over and get you some before they even get back.”

Kakashi stares at her. “You’re being nice to me. Why are you being nice?”

“Well,” she grins widely, a strange light in her eye. “Someone’s gotta look out for you. If the grown-ups aren’t gonna, it’s gotta be me. What else are siblings for?”

“Siblings.” Kakashi echoes.

Anko reaches over and pats him on the head. It’s still to rough. He winces and pulls back a little, and she stops.

“Yeah,” she tells him. “I’ve decided you’re my brother now. I mean, it only makes sense.”

How,” Kakashi asks, but she’s already hopped off the bed and perched herself on the window sill, which is still open from when she’d let herself in hours ago.

“Chill out. Big sister will be right back with the medicine,” she waves cheekily.

“I’m older than you,” he deadpans, but she’s already launched herself out of the building. He sighs and collapses back against the blankets.

How is this his life?

Chapter Text

In a bewildering twist that Kakashi never in his life saw coming, Anko actually makes good on her word. And when that girl says she’s going to take care of someone, she really takes care of them. 

Baby Anko Mitirashi, all two and a half feet of her, has Kakashi tucked into bed with a damp cloth across his forehead and nearly high on cold syrup before he even has time to get a word in. She’s perched herself on the bare top of his dresser, which coincidentally also serves as a sort of nightstand, and has crossed her legs over each other and hunkered down to stare at him avidly, as if she’s waiting for something to happen. 

Kakashi isn’t sure what she’s expecting, the inner workings of the minds of children are a mystery to him—which, ironic, given the circumstances, yes—and in all honesty, he’s already used up his meager reserves of energy for the day, so he can’t provide any entertainment for the girl in any way. 

Which really just begs the question, doesn’t it. 

He sighs. “Why are you still here?”

Anko blinks, looking a little startled or torn from a daze, and Kakashi takes a moment to ponder just how long exactly they’d been sitting there in silence for her to enter some odd state of almost-meditation as ‘zoning out’. 

She gives him a weird look, and Kakashi sighs again. 

“How come you haven’t left yet?”

“What do you mean.”

“You’re still here—aren’t you, I don’t know, bored?” Kakashi shakes his head. “You… you don’t have to stay. The help is appreciated, but… you have better things to do, don’t you?”

He gives his legs a little kick from beneath the blankets in an attempt to perhaps untangle them from the sheets they’ve become victim to, but it’s a futile effort, and he gives up after a moment with a short cough. Thankfully, whatever this horrid, debilitating illness is, it can be soothed slightly with the cough syrup Anko had gratuitously poured down his throat, and the cough barely rattles his ribcage this time. 

The tiny past self of one of his closer friends, however much they’d both liked to deny it, tilts her head to the side and considers him for a moment. Anko leans further back over the top of the dresser, arms stretching out over her head until her spine gives a relenting pop, and then straightens up to give him a derisive look. 

“You talk like an old guy,” she says. “I guess there’s a reason for that hair after all, huh.”

Excuse him. “What’s wrong with my hair?”

She peers at him narrowly. “It’s old man hair, that’s what! What kinda kid has white hair, anyway?”

“Hatake kids do,” Kakashi returns sharply. Just because he’s a generally laid back guy doesn’t mean he’ll just let people poke fun at his clan characteristics. He does have honor. “Every Hatake has white hair, even kids with a parent from outside the clan—the family genes are pretty obnoxious and win out over any—“

He paused. Anko stares at him quietly, watching him as he dips his head down to regard his lap with his gaze instead of the room. What’s he doing here? Anko is like, five, and he’s about to go off and lecture her about genetics and hereditary traits? 

Not that he thinks she won’t understand it if he does—kami, she probably gets enough of it from Orochimaru in her daily life, she doesn’t need to hear it from him, too. She’d only been joking. 

What’s he even doing here?

“Nevermind, it doesn’t really matter anymore.” He waves the buildup of unnecessary words away without letting them be verbalized. “It’s not like there’s any left. It’s just me, now.”

He glances up to find Anko looking back at him solemnly. He blinks. 

“Shut up,” she suddenly barks, and he jumps a little at the abrupt change in volume. 

Anko hops off the dresser and onto the mattress next to him. Kakashi winces a bit at the way it makes the bed shake, bringing a faint reminder of his constant nausea to the forefront of his mind, but he’s near-immediately distracted again by the incredibly puzzling—not to mention vexing—little girl sitting beside him. 

“It sure does matter,” she tells him in a voice that sounds oddly upset. “Don’t be an idiot.”

“... What am I being an idiot about, again…?”

Anko rolls her eyes and gives his shoulder a light punch. With Kakashi's current constitution, it still ends up hurting quite a bit. How frustrating. 

“It’s not just you, dumbass,” the five year old girl tells him in a surly tone. “I’m here now. Remember? You’re my little brother now? Do you have the memory of a goldfish, or something?”

“I’m actually older than you—“

“So, since I’m your big sister,” she continues, “I’m gonna look out for you. Cuz we’re family, now, dumbass. Whether you like it or not. So there!”

Kakashi watches her, mutely, waiting for her to continue on her tirade, but she just crosses her arms and squints at him. 

“You’re just gonna have to get over it.”

“I’m,” Kakashi starts, and then stops, shaking his head. He isn’t really sure what to say. 

Anko nods decisively. “Are you hungry?”

“...  I don’t know.”

“Well, I wasn’t gonna go get you food or anything,” she remarks rather snidely. “I’m your sister , not your maid.”

“Can you just, stop that, it’s weird?” Kakashi asks plaintively, but it’s like he’s not saying anything at all for all the acknowledgment she gives his words. 

“I’m pretty sure they’ve all been feeding you too much, anyway—like, you’ve got three grown-ups momming you, up in this joint. That’s crazy. And they’re all feeding you? Even crazier. How are you not completely round by now?”

Kakashi regards her wearily. “I work out.”

“I mean, I know Orochimaru has a problem with giving people too much grub,” Anko grins, “especially sick or injured people—food’s like, his answer to everything. Sad? Have some food. Angry? Eat some food! Broken leg? Ah, food’ll make it good as new!”

“No, he doesn’t,” Kakashi denies, simply because his brain is having trouble bringing up an image of Orochimaru ever being that chipper. 

She snorts. “Yeah, nah, you’re right. He just makes it and then sets it in front of you and stares at you all expectant-like, like he’ll be disappointed in your ability as a person if you don’t eat it.”

Kakashi nods slowly, relaxing a bit. That sounds more realistic. 

“... Does he make you The Tea, too,” he asks, so quietly he almost doesn’t hear himself, but he’s been wondering it for a while, ever since he’d seen Anko perched on Orochimaru’s hip like she belonged there. 

It’s loud enough for Anko to hear, though, because she pins him with a wide-eyed look. 

“He makes you The Tea?” She says, and it doesn’t take much for Kakashi to hear the capital letters. That’s really all he needs for confirmation.

The girl studies him for a second after he nods at her. Once her survey is complete, she crosses her arms.  “Well there’s no going back now.”

The words carry some sort of finality to them. Kakashi isn’t sure if he should fear for his life or not. 

He shakes his head slowly, turning to glance out the bedroom window. The ever-present trees of Konoha sway just slightly in the wind beyond the glass. The green leaves shuffle around too much for him to settle his gaze on even one, and if that’s not a good analogy for what’s been going on in his head lately, Kakashi doesn’t know what is .

There’s an odd sort of shadow to the leaves. It flits about for a second before becoming stationary above a branch. Something about it rings faint alarms in Kakashi’s mind. It makes him close his eyes, and he presses a palm over a socket. At the rate his headache is affecting the familiar dots that dance around his vision, he can’t be sure he’s actually seeing anything but swaying tree branches. 

Anko hops onto the floor, and reaches out to grab his hand. She gives it a little tug, still a bit stronger than Kakashi believes she’s got the permit to be, and nearly drags him off the bed and into a heap on the floor. 

“I heard your stomach gurgle,” she explains at the betrayed look he gives her. “Didn't redhead mom say something about ramen? Let’s go.”

Kakashi allows himself to be manhandled out of the bedroom. Food sounds as good as it doesn’t, right now. 




Kushina scowls at the shitty microwave, ancient and decrepit and probably haunted because she can feel it staring back at her, and secretly vows to, one way or another, get Kashi out of this dump and into a place that’s actually inhabitable

Like, just—the kids place is a dump , and she might have felt a little mean for thinking that if Kakashi actually took care of it (and himself), but all evidence points to the opposite being true, so Kushina feels justified when she mentally makes faces at every crack in the wall, every stain on the ceiling that might have once been white but definitely isn’t anymore, at the kami-forsaken mold creeping its way up the wall behind the fridge. Like, actual mold , climbing up the wall like some sort of grossly decorative wallpaper. Kami , no wonder Kakashi is sick. 

And he is sick, for sure. Even if there wasn’t mold growing behind his fridge, even if he ate like a fucking bird , even if he didn’t train until he was close to death probably every day and then some— it’s all plainly there in the way he’s been behaving. 

When Minato had first mentioned Kakashi being sick, Kushina hadn’t been super worried or anything. Minato realizing it or not, Kakashi gets sick all the freaking time. Yeah, it sucks, and it sure is concerning, but the kid doesn’t take care of himself on a good day , what are they suppose to expect?

But Minato had looked so concerned , and yeah he’s always concerned about Kakashi, but there was something different about it this time. There was a desperate little light in her beau’s pretty blue eyes, the barest hint of fear at the back of his voice that caught her attention like wolves to a bloodbath. Despite his almost eccentric enthusiasm and optimism, it takes a lot to shake Minato up, and he was definitely shaken at the ramen stand, and as she followed him and Obito-kun to Kakashi’s apartment, Kushina realized that he had been shaken up for a while already, and it doesn’t look like he’d relax any time soon. 

She isn’t sure she really understood why until she’d seen Kakashi for herself. He just looked so small curled up in that pile of blankets, and he usually had such a tight rein on his emotions even if he wasn’t feeling good, so the complete and utter terror that wafted from his bedroom and tingled viciously along the waves of his chakra signature when he’d first woken up had startled the fuck out of all four—Orochimaru had been a surprise, even if Minato had sort of warned her, but the snake sannin did seem to care—of them. 

She hadn’t been able to help herself from swooping in, though, after Minato had somehow calmed him down—his sweet little face had just been so sleepy, even if he did look like hell—which was suspicious enough. And he’d barely protested the nickname! Something is obviously wrong, disregarding the fact that he’d almost seemed to want her cuddles. Poor sweet boy. Precious little Kashi. He’s in a real bad way, and he’d been left with these uselessly inept shinobi as caretakers. Not even a cold compress! What the actual fuck?

Kushina finally wrestles the broken latch of the microwave door free, and yanks the door open with a victorious cry. At least the stupid machine still manages to do what it was created for. She wouldn’t know what to do with herself if she’d been forced to serve a sick Kashi lukewarm ramen!

Ramen is the cure to all ails—at least,it always makes Kushina feel better when she’s feeling down. She hasn’t actually been sick herself since she was around Kakashi age, but she kind of, sort of, remembers how it’s suppose to feel. And Kakashi looks like he can definitely use some good old Ichiraku. 

“He’s been given the cough medicine,” someone sidles up beside her to lean against the counter and cross his arms. She doesn’t have to look over to know it’s Orochimaru—Minato won’t ever in his life manage to get his voice to sound that smooth. 

Kushina busies herself with lifting the once-again scalding ramen out of the microwave with hot pads, scowling into the bowl once she’s set it on the countertop. “He probably wouldn’t even have the cough if he’d been taking medicine from the beginning, ya know?”

Orochimaru glances at her from the corner of his eye, but his face is turned toward where Minato’s sat himself at the table, hunching over it with his shaggy blonde head buried in his arms. 

Kushina turns herself all the way around so that she’s facing the room, and crosses her arms. “Isn’t that what you’re suppose to do, when you're sick? Take medicine ?”

Orochimaru lifts one shoulder up, and then lets it drop. He looked vaguely uncomfortable, just enough to try and hide it behind a mask of indifference, but Kushina has been reading people her entire life, so she sees it anyway, even if it is the snake sannin himself. “I had been under the impression he was already on something... I suppose that was remiss of me.”

Remiss to assume anything in the first place , is what goes unsaid, and even though Minato obviously hears it too, he still scowls deeply when Kushina turns a pointed look on him. 

“I don’t fucking know ,” he grits out, beyond frustrated and gripping at his hair, and Kushina winces, a little stunned (and from her peripheral vision she sees Orochimaru is too), because it must have really been a rough week on him if he’s cursing

Sunny Minato Namikaze doesn’t curse, it’s just not...him.  And when he does then it means he’s at his wits end, or feeling guilty about something and angry—and in either case it’s at himself and not anyone else.

Kushina leaves the bowl on the counter for a minute, letting the steam rise a bit so it won’t burn poor Kashi’s tongue when he digs in—she inches over and then hurriedly takes the seat beside Minato. She leans over to wrap an arm around his hunched and tense shoulders, leaning her cheek against one and rubbing up and down his closest arm with her free hand. 

“Hey,” she starts, all soft, and if Orochimaru hadn’t looked uncomfortable before, he sure did now, and it was almost funny. “You have a lot on your plate, y’know? ‘Course you know, what am I saying—what I mean is this,” she taps his chin a bit until he’s looking right at her, and she can see the damp ness that’s gathered at the corners of his eyes that he’s trying so hard to hide. 

“When people are sick, they take medicine for it, how were you suppose to know Kakashi wasn’t doing that? You’ve got three kids under your care right now, basically, and that’s a lot when you stop to think about it. Just one kid is already a lot, and you’d been doing alright with Kakashi this whole year, but now you’ve suddenly got two other kids on your roster that rely on you for so much—“

“I haven’t, though,” Minato, bless the dumbass, immediately jumps straight for denial. “His father killed himself, practically right in front of him, he’s the one that found that body, sat with him for hours before somebody found him—that sort of things leaves scars, Kushina, scars that will never go away, and he hasn’t seen help for them once. An entire year, I’ve been the person who’s suppose to look out for him, teach him, provide for him, and I… I haven’t done that. I tried, sure, but I put too much trust in the fact that he could look after himself too really see past that and realize that he really, really can’t. He’s a smart boy, he’s way too mature than anyone his age should ever need to be, but I’m the one who’s suppose to take care of him. I’m the one who is suppose to make sure his needs are being met. I should have fought harder to get him an appointment with a Yamanaka or a counselor, I should have fought harder against the council when they decided he didn’t require that, fought harder against the prejudices of the village—his home is suppose to be safe for him and it’s not! I—“

Kushina leans away from him as Minato cuts himself off abruptly, and watches him hunch forward over the table to press his face into his hands. The apartment is absolutely silent for a moment,before he mutters, “ I should have made sure he was taking medicine, instead of just assuming that he was. I should have…. I should have taken him to the hospital in the beginning of this.”

Kushina isn’t really sure what to say here. She bites her lip hard enough to draw blood, and glances around the room aimlessly until her gaze lands on Orochimaru, who just gives her the barest shake of his head to signal that he’s just as lost as she is. 

She’s only rarely seen Minato like this. The few times that she had, it usually had something to do with the hokage or the council making another decision that really ruffled his feathers, especially since he wasn’t in a position yet to really contest any of it. Sure, he was getting there, working toward it, and sure, they (mostly the hokage, and damn did Kushina have opinions about that old codger) made it seem like he was in the position to give suggestions and objections, but he really wasn’t. The second Minato gave even the slightest hint that his priorities didn’t line up exactly with what the council wanted, they’d push to have him distanced from power. Those three especially would lean their weight into Hiruzen Sarutobi until he gave in, and likely would

Damn them , she thinks viciously. Damn them all. Damn them for how corrupt they’ve let the government of this village, which had been born into the world as a beacon of peace and hope, become. Damn them for sitting aside, up on their high horses watching the people beneath them that they’d sworn to protect and work in the interest of suffer unnecessarily in the name of the so-called greater good, and damn them all for putting Minato through this. He hated not being able to help anything, she knew, hated not being able to do what was so clearly the right thing, and hated not being able to convince his mentor that was the case. 

Kushina throws herself back in her chair, utterly furious that she’s unable to think of anything to say that will make Minato feel better. In the end, she just crosses her arms over her chest, and says, “Then let’s take him to the hospital.”

His eyes snap to her. “He doesn’t want to go. He hates it there, and I don’t really blame him, knowing what happened the last time he went.”

Kushina withheld a flinch. Last time Kakashi was at the hospital, it had been any child’s worst nightmare. She could see why the poor kiddo would fight tooth and nail to never return, but…

She opens her mouth, but Minato is already sighing. “You’re right, though. I don’t know what else to do. I was going to give him three days, it’s only been one, but—“ he looks at them helplessly, and Kushina feels the rage stirring in her gut sharpen at the expression on his face. “I don’t know what to do.”

There’s a moment of silence between them, and then Orochimaru is pushing off the counter and moving to sit in a chair across from them. He leans back in it almost lazily, like it’s some sort of throne, and Kushina is relieved for the relaxed way he carries himself. It looks way less high strung than she feels, right now, and just the image is helping her breathe easier, helping her calm down by giving her a point of reference.

“The day isn’t over, yet.” He comments in a soft drawl. An eyebrow goes up almost fractionally, and Kushina probably only notices because she’s staring right at them. “Then again, the hospital never exactly closes…”

Minato stares over the table at him, eyes looking a little distant, almost distracted, until the blond sighs and runs a hand over his face tiredly—he does look exhausted, poor guy, she’ll make sure to kiss the hell out of him once this is all over—only to drop both of them into his lap and slouch back. 

“I feel like I’m betraying him somehow,” he gives a weak laugh, shaking his head dejectedly. “I know it’s silly, but…”

“Nah, it makes sense,” Kushina bumps his shoulder with her own. “You really want that little guy to trust you, and now you’re going to make him do something he’s not going to be happy doing. Doesn’t matter if it’s for his own good—he’s still a kid, ya know, and he’s probably gonna be upset about it.  But—“

“Still gotta,” Minato says. 

“And how do you propose this happens, if you’re so adamantly convinced that he will fight you on this?” Orochimaru asks, still looking like royalty even in the rickety, dingy little apartment dining chair. Kushina hates him maybe just a little bit for it. 

“Well…” Minato pauses, looking a little guilty, and then goes, “You’ve seen him. Does he look like he can fight anything right now?”

The man tilts his head forward in acquiescence. “But you’d still like to somehow soften the blow.”

Minato makes a face, nodding slowly. 

The three of them lapse into silence, sitting at that kitchen table like it’s a war room. There’s an odd feeling in the air, almost as if this were some strategy meeting to discuss plans for who-even-knows, except it’s tinged with an air of this-is-kind-of-ridiculous, and a small helpless feel of but-its-also-kind-of-important, so—

Kushina peers at him, eyes squinting. Slowly, as if not to startle the blond, she comments, “Kakashi looks like he could do with some fresh air, doesn’t he?”

Minato stares at her uncomprehendingly. Orochimaru‘s other eyebrow goes up to join the first. 

“We all could, you know. We should… take a walk. Outside. Through the village, maybe. See some trees.”

“What are you saying,” Minato says. 

Orochimaru isn’t taking any of his shit—Kushina knew she liked the guy for a reason. “You know exactly what she’s saying.”

“Well, I do, but I don’t like it.”

“You don’t have to,” Kushina informs him smugly. “Sometimes you have to do the dirty work yourself, ya know. Don’t be a bitch about it, Minato!”

Minato makes a face, maybe a grimace but mixed with something that looks really whiny (honestly, what does she see in this guy?) and Orochimaru tilts his head back with an air of mute satisfaction now that a plan had been made. 

There’s a squeak of tile, and all three of their eyes snap to the kitchen doorway at once. Obito freezes under their gazes, like a deer in the sight of a predator. His hands are wringing at the hem of his shirt, and his eyes dart to all of them before settling on the floor by his feet. 

“They’re coming down the hall,” he tells them quietly. You should start talking about something else , he doesn’t say, but the adults all hear. “Is the food done yet? I-I can hear Bakashi’s stomach all the way from over here!”

His voice gets progressively louder until he’s back at normal volume, and Kakashi scowls over at him—it’s definitely more of a pout, the boy can’t glare worth a damn, all it does is make him look like an upset puppy, ugh it’s too cute—as he’s dragged bodily into the room by a chipper looking Anko, who delivers him straight to the chair next to her mentor. 

Food , stat,” the adorable little girl says loudly. 

Kushina wonders how in the hell the graceful and articulate Orochimaru raised such a little scoundrel. Kushina might be in love. Maybe she should have kids one day, too? She glances over at Minato speculatively, who is staring at the uncomfortable Uchiha with a tight smile that tells Kushina he’s feeling slightly proud of his student but also guilty about being proud of why he’d just done what he’d done—eh, whatever. 

Her, Minato, babies? There’s a thought. Kushina rests her chin on her fist and gives a dreamy sigh. She hopes any brat she manages to eventually push out will grow to be just as much of a riot as Anko is.